• Dr Sharon Ann Holgate
Back to the results
Dr Sharon Ann Holgate
Featured Profile: 
Featured Profile
At A Glance
Licensed Body: 
Institute of Physics and Engineering in Medicine
Scientist Type: 
First Degree: 
BSc (Hons) in physics
Science Writer and Broadcaster
Works For: 
DPhil in physics
The ability to time travel, so I could holiday in the 18th Century (my favourite period in history).
Big Picture
When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? 
A singer. I trained for years, but a nasty bout of glandular fever that damaged my voice ended that dream when I was a teenager.
Who or what inspired you to become a scientist? 
I didn’t realise it at the time, but it was actually watching an episode of Fingerbobs as a 4 year old child that inspired me. Crow wanted a drink but couldn’t reach the water in the bottom of a large beaker, so he began dropping in pebbles until the water level rose enough for him to drink. I can remember dragging my Mum into the garden to collect stones so we could repeat the experiment in the kitchen.
What do you love about your job and being a “scientist”? 
The challenge of trying to understand complex topics and convey their meaning to non-specialists, and hearing about all the amazing innovations and benefits science can bring.
What qualifications did you take at school? 
8 O levels at school, and a BTEC Diploma in Science at technical college.
Why did you choose your first degree subject? 
Physics. I’d always been fascinated by physics, and it was my best subject at school.
Do you have a Masters or PhD? If not, was it difficult to demonstrate Masters-level equivalence in order to achieve CSci? 
I have a doctorate (DPhil) from the University of Sussex.
How do you describe your job when you meet people at a party? 
I often avoid saying what I do for a living as I’ve had some very weird reactions in the past - sometimes people just don’t believe me!
What is ‘cutting-edge’ about your work? 
I am often writing about research that is only just coming out of the lab, or undergoing clinical trials.
What are the biggest implications your work will/could have in the future? 
Some of the writing projects I work on are targeted at policy makers, while others aim to encourage young people to enter science as a profession.
Describe some of the highlights of your average day. 
I really enjoy talking to scientists and medics about their work, and hearing how they are developing devices and techniques that could change all our lives for the better.
Describe briefly how your career has progressed to date. 
As a student I started broadcasting at a hospital radio station, and writing articles for student magazines. I also won a Merit Award in the Daily Telegraph Young Science Writer of the Year competition, which encouraged me to try my hand at freelance writing and broadcasting. So after my doctorate I began writing for publications including New Scientist, and the Times Higher Education Supplement, while broadcasting on local BBC radio. I later moved to broadcasting at the BBC World Service, then for BBC Radio 4, while my writing has diversified to cover not only journalism but writing books, and also brochures and careers leaflets for science institutions.
How is your job cross-disciplinary? 
My work can cover a range of different scientific fields depending on the contract. For example, after completing my undergraduate physics textbook, my next commission was presenting video interviews of researchers working to understand the rare genetic condition Birt-Hogg-Dubé Syndrome.
What’s the most unexpected thing about your job? 
The diverse range of talented people I’ve had the opportunity to work with and alongside – from leading research scientists and medics, to rock stars and comedians. Watching the amazing skill of film actor Saeed Jaffrey reading excerpts from some of physicist S.N. Bose’s letters and speeches for a programme I presented on BBC Radio 4 was particularly fascinating. He could instantly alter the sound of his voice to represent Bose at different stages of his life.
What’s the biggest achievement of your career so far? 
Winning the Institute of Physics Young Professional Physicist of the Year award was a stand-out moment, as was being shortlisted for the Junior Prize in the Aventis Prizes for Science Books for the children’s popular science book I co-authored ‘The Way Science Works’. But in many ways I’d say the biggest achievement was giving a talk based on this book at Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital where I’d been an in-patient several times as a child. One of the reasons I decided to become a science writer was that I’d been encouraged by the hospital teachers to write some science articles for the patient magazine, and it had really helped take my mind off being terrified about my impending operation. When the nurses came to prepare me for theatre, they found me sat at my bed with paper and books strewn all over it, and I sent them away again as I hadn’t quite finished my last piece and didn’t want to miss my deadline! It was a fantastic experience to give something back to the hospital that had helped me so much, and to hopefully take the patient’s minds off why they were in there and encourage them to get more interested in science.
Would you say you have a good standard of living/ work-life balance? 
It can be nigh on impossible to maintain a good work-life balance when lots of contracts come in simultaneously, but work tends to come in peaks and troughs so you do get chance to spend time with friends and family during quieter periods.
What kind of hobbies or extracurricular activities do you do to relax? 
I spend most of my free time seeing friends, visiting art galleries and museums, and adding to my ridiculously large collection of clothes and handbags. I keep coldwater fish, and enjoy listening to music. I also like reading about 18th Century history, mid-century modern interior design, and heritage engineering.
Why did you choose to apply for CSci and what do you value most about being a Chartered Scientist? 
Having CSci status reinforces a sense of continuity between the research I carried out for my doctorate and communicating science, and makes me feel part of a wider scientific community.
How important is CPD? What do you think of the revalidation process in ensuring that CSci is a mark of current competence? 
The CPD required to maintain CSci is extremely important to me as every facet of my work requires a slightly different skills set which must be constantly updated. I find the structure of the CPD scheme I follow for CSci incredibly helpful when deciding what training will be most beneficial for me. I also feel a sense of perspective and achievement from the reflection and planning aspect of the CPD.
Advice & Reflection
What words of wisdom would you give someone interested in getting into your field? 
Try your hand at writing, broadcasting, and presenting science on a voluntary basis to make sure it is something you enjoy doing and feel you can develop your skills in. Make sure you get some feedback on the things you try, and can cope with hearing this. There is no room for a massive ego in this profession. You have to be happy to be edited or directed and take advice.
How important is the mentoring process in your field and to you personally? 
I simply would not have got to the point I have in my career without mentors. Learning from the experiences of people who have been in similar situations is invaluable. In terms of CPD, having a mentor providing guidance, support and a different perspective is a tremendous help.
How would you define “professionalism”? 
The ability to put personal feelings or career aspirations aside and focus solely on making the best job you can of the task in hand.
What would you do differently if you were starting out in your career now? 
Nothing because if I did anything differently I may not have met some of the colleagues, producers and editors I now number among my friends.
What would you like people to remember about your life as a scientist? 
If I have inspired anyone to consider a career as a scientist or just think about science in a more positive way, then I’ll consider that a job well done.
Back to the results