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Kelly Quantrill

Risk & resilience analysis Researcher, Cambridge University 

 

And - participating in 100DaysOfCode with Python

Whatever it is you want to do, you can do it. If you feel strongly enough about it, then do it.

What do you do?

I am a researcher in Risk and Resilience Analysis at the Cambridge University Centre for Risk Studies. I look at the impacts of different hazards on economic and social systems. The hazards I might analyse are environmental (e.g. earthquakes, hurricanes, solar), human (e.g. pandemics), and artificial (e.g. nuclear, cyber attacks).

I develop scenarios to stress-test the system of interest. What would happen if a cyber attack brought down the US power grid? What would happen to the energy fields in the Gulf Coast if a hurricane worse than Hurricane Katrina hit? How many people might seek medical treatment in the event of a global pandemic factoring in anti-microbial resistance, and could health systems cope? This research is for the use of academics, re-insurers, corporations, and the general public.

Why did you choose this field?

"All of the women in STEM I've met and read about - it makes me feel giddy with happiness and hopefulness."

My science teacher was fairly uninspiring and I changed subjects as soon as I was able. My twin brother was raised as "the technical one" and I was raised as "the one who is good with languages". However, I always had a fascination with natural hazards since I was a kid; I just never realised it was something you could study and make a career out of.

 

One day, when I was in my mid-20s, I was having one of my bi-annual breakdowns after a terrible day at my corporate finance job, wondering what I was doing with my life. I began to draw up a list of things that interested me to try to find some direction - a process I'd gone through many times before. For some reason this time was different and the words "natural disaster preparedness" made their first appearance. Google quickly corrected me to catastrophe risk modeller and emergency management roles, but that was a defining moment for me and I never looked back.

 

It took me about a year and a half from that evening to find and apply for the MSc in Environmental Risk at Durham University, and I spent my evenings studying maths and doing online courses in Earth Science to prepare for a change in careers and countries. 

What do you look at and think, "I wish younger me would have known this was possible"?

"I wish I could go back in time and tell younger me I am capable and smart enough and that I will crush it and love every moment."

Choosing two of the most scientific modules in my MSc: Spatial and Temporal Dimensions of Hazards and Hydro-Meteorological Hazards. I was tempted to pick up an alternative elective but I forced myself to stick with the scientific ones. It took several meetings with graduate students who had survived those modules to convince me that I was capable. In the end, I was the only student in that cohort with a Social Science background who did those courses. I got a distinction. It had been my dream to get a science degree for so many years. 

Why do you love working in STEM?

I love the creative and logical process of writing code. Programming in Python and writing SQL is infinitely rewarding. The best parts of my job are when I get to play with data. It's so easy to lose yourself in. When you see a correct, usable output you feel a rush of positive emotions.

Best advice for the next generation

Whatever it is you want to do, you can do it. If you feel strongly enough about it and think that 40 years from now you will regret not doing it, then do it. Success is never a guarantee but always try.

 

Speak to women in STEM every chance you get.  Read about them, support them, support each other. If you're fearful like I was remember that there are many avenues available for you to fill in the gaps - the world is full of tutorials and free online courses for every subject imaginable. Leverage them. 

 

It might not take one inspiring moment to change your life but rather lots of little ones that build up.

Fave app

My favourite two apps are Polytopia, a turn-based world-building strategy game, and BeyondPod. The podcast 'No Such Thing as a Fish' gives me life and the hosts of the show are my best friends, even though they don't know it.