Kathryn Harkup

Science communicator


Take any opportunities that present themselves and don't think that science is ‘just’ science - it is an amazing way of exploring almost everything and anything you can think of.

What do you do?

I talk, write and enthuse about science to anyone who wants to listen - particularly the more grisly side of science, like poison and murder.

Why did you choose this field?

I had to choose three A-levels when I was 16 and I felt like I had to choose between science and arts subjects. I wanted to do both but decided to study science but keep an interest in the arts. I liked chemistry the most of all the sciences and decided to study it at university. The more I learnt the more I wanted to learn. I loved the environment at university, there was so much to do outside of the lecture theatre, like going to see plays and concerts and making friends with people studying all sorts of interesting things.
When I finished my degree I still wanted to learn more about chemistry so I did a PhD. Part of my research for my PhD involved using some very toxic chemicals. I learned how to use them safely but started to wonder what these chemicals could do that was so harmful. During my PhD I also got involved in lots of outreach work. Talking in schools and showing students around labs and demonstrating some science experiments. I realised that I preferred talking about science more than being in the lab so I got a job at another university talking to students about the amazing research that goes on in science and engineering labs at universities.
All of this was leading up to me being a self-employed science communicator. I gave talks in schools and village halls and lecture theatres to all ages and audiences. I also started writing and was able to combine my love of science and the arts by writing about the science in books - I've written about the poisons in Agatha Christie books, the science of Frankenstein and all the ways to die in Shakespeare plays.

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

Having researchers for TV programmes and fiction writers ask me about how they can get the science right in their crime drama or detective novel. The only thing I miss from my days in the lab is the problem solving. I love figuring things out. I think that is why I like Agatha Christie novels and detective dramas. I like to find out whodunnit and how-they-dunnit. I don't think younger me would have known that you can do that all the time and as a job.

Why do you love working in STEM?

I love finding out new things and sharing amazing stories and facts with other people. I love that science is not restricted to working in a lab. I can use all the skills I learnt as a researcher, in how to figure things out and solve problems, and combine it with my other interests in books and stories. I now use my science research skills to answer questions like 'could vampires exist?' or 'could Frankenstein have built a creature and bring it to life?'

Best advice for next generation?

Find something you enjoy and do whatever it is to the best of your ability. Take any opportunities that present themselves and don't think that science is ‘just’ science - it is an amazing way of exploring almost everything and anything you can think of.

Inspo quote / fun fact / role model

“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood.” - Marie Curie

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