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Peter Cains
At A Glance
Licensed Body: 
South East
First Degree: 
Chemical Engineering
Visiting Research Fellow
Works For: 
Technical University of Delft, NL
Big Picture
When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? 
A doctor or a medical researcher, I wanted to find a cure for cancer
Who or what inspired you to become a scientist? 
I always excelled at chemistry, and it seemed in many ways the obvious thing to do. However, I didn’t get to be a Chemist straight away. For reasons that are now beyond me, I did a first degree in Chemical Engineering, which didn’t suit me at all. I did a PhD in physical chemistry & eventually acquired Chartered Chemist status through the Royal Society of Chemistry.
What do you love about your job and being a “scientist”? 
As I mention above, science has always been what I am good at, so it always made sense to try to do it. The other things I am good at, principally music, are fun but not good for earning a living. I’ve always been keen on pure science for its own sake, rather than the way it is often conceived as a vehicle for wealth creation.
What would you change? 
Lots of things, & I try not to think too much in this way. What has happened – some good, some bad – is in the past now, & I have to move forward with what I have got. Having said that, if I had the benefit of hindsight, I would change the following – (1) do the right first degree, Chemistry or Physics, (2) gp into academia despite the difficulties when I had the offer of a Cambridge postdoc at the age of 26
What qualifications did you take at school? 
9 GCE ‘O’-levels, & 5 ‘A’-levels with 2 additional special papers – Chemistry, Physics, Mathematics, Pure Mathematics, & Applied Mathematics. To comment, I would have preferred a more balanced education at this stage because I also like (& was good at) humanities subjects & languages
Why did you choose your first degree subject? 
As I mention above, Chemical Engineering for all the wrong reasons. In 1968/9 when I was deciding which course to take, there was a ‘campaign’ to encourage students away from pure science & towards applied science, on the grounds that it was believed that there would be more demand for applied scientists in the future. How wrong can you be? I shouldn’t have listened to them.
Do you have a Masters or PhD? If not, was it difficult to demonstrate Masters-level equivalence in order to achieve CSci? 
Yes, I have a PhD in colloid science. It has been my redemption in so many ways. And I really enjoyed doing it.
How do you describe your job when you meet people at a party? 
I tell them variously that I am a solid-state chemist / crystal chemist / crystallographer & that I work with pharmaceuticals and organic chemical compounds.
Describe some of the highlights of your average day. 
The best answer to this is that I don’t have an average day, thank goodness. If my life were so, I would try to change it
Describe briefly how your career has progressed to date. 
Complicated. I completed my PhD in 1975. The I worked for the Atomic Energy Authority / AEA Technology through its various metamorphoses until I was ‘early retired’, i.e. made redundant in 2003 at the age of just 52. I have had a better time since then. I worked at UCL where I held a Royal Society Fellowship & was Visiting Professor. Then I moved to the Netherlands to become Principal Scientist of the Solid-state group at Avantium Technology BV. I am now a Visiting Fellow at the University of Delft funded by a ‘Bezoekersbeurs’ Fellowship from the Dutch Organization for Scientific Research (NWO).
How is your job cross-disciplinary? 
I am established as a Chemist. Crystal science is arguably a mixture of Chemistry, Physics & Materials Science (if you want to hang labels on it). There is a large Physics contribution to what I am doing now, which I like very much
How well is your job compensated? What is the starting salary for your field, and how much can this be expected to rise? 
I couldn’t give figures. At the moment I am in a temporary (1-year position) being paid living expenses rather than a salary. My work consciousness spans 3 countries – UK, Netherlands, Germany - & the comparisons & relativities are different in all cases.
How do you see your field developing over the next 5-10 years? 
There has been a marked downturn in interest in fundamental research in solid-state chemistry in the pharmaceuticals sector over the past 4 – 5 years. I think the centre of gravity will move to others areas such as functional and ‘smart’ materials.
Would you say you have a good standard of living/ work-life balance? 
What kind of hobbies or extracurricular activities do you do to relax? 
I have mentioned the music – although this sometimes looks like a second career. I go to the gym, & like to travel, although I don’t get much chance at the moment.
Why did you choose to apply for CSci and what do you value most about being a Chartered Scientist? 
Because my working situation has been ‘volatile’ for the past several years, I want to appear as highly qualified as possible. I also value the interdisciplinary aspect, since I now work with people from many scientific & engineering disciplines.
What is the value of professional bodies? 
I think professional people should have some sort of creditation. Also, because these bodies collaborate internationally, it gives their members credibility if they wish to work in other countries.
How important is CPD? What do you think of the revalidation process in ensuring that CSci is a mark of current competence? 
I don’t have any particular views on CPD as it is presently conceived & formulated, but I think any professional person should be able to show that he/she has actually been practicing the profession & has made efforts to keep up with changes & developments.
Advice & Reflection
How would you define “professionalism”? 
Honesty & integrity are most important, & not being pressurized to do & say what you don’t think is right. I have come under this sort of pressure myself several times in my career, & I have always resisted. On the plus side, giving the best ‘service’ you are capable of.
What would you do differently if you were starting out in your career now? 
Coming into the profession now, things look very different to the way they were when I started out. I would probably surmise that I would unlikely to be able to carry out independent fundamental research outside of academia, & would point myself firmly in that direction.
What would you like people to remember about your life as a scientist? 
That I was always honest, never falsified anything, & always told the truth as I saw it.
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