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Abi Cheales

Higher Scientist

4 minute read

In her own words Abi Cheales tells her story. 

Abi-Cheales.pngI have always been interested in science. I went to a secondary school which was a science college, where I did triple science. I then went on to do an undergraduate physics and astrophysics degree at Bristol and a master's in science and technology studies at UCL. I had started applying for jobs locally and noticed that NPL was hiring. I knew of NPL because I did NPL Academy when I was at school, so I was already aware of what they did and that it would be an interest to me career wise. I’ve been working here for 6 years now. I take part in a lot of Outreach activity, participating in events like Big Bang Birmingham and New Scientist Live.  

As a measurement service provider at NPL, my days are slightly more routine based than some of my colleagues. The first thing I do most days is grab a coffee and go through my emails to sort out my day. Take today as an example, I am currently doing an AC/DC transfer measurement. This involves setting up a measurement in the lab and running it for a couple of hours. I’m also studying at the moment and conducting research relevant to my area. I do a nine-day fortnight which means I work an extra hour for nine days a week and get the 10th day off – I really appreciate this flexibility.  

I always knew I wanted to do science but the discipline I’ve been interested in has always fluctuated. I enjoy problem solving, troubleshooting and working with something that will hopefully make a difference to the world. A lot of the measurements I do underpins science related to the National Grid and power utilisation. It’s nice knowing that my work might have big implications for climate change and renewable energies.  

Just before the COVID pandemic I was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome. It was quite poorly managed pre-covid and then I was one of the first people back on-site. After two years of lockdown, I found this very stressful which led to me becoming quite unwell. There was a moment when I thought “I can’t do this anymore”. Thankfully I have a great relationship with my manager and we managed to work through it.  

I’m allowed as much flexibility as my role allows – if I have customer work on then I’m onsite as there is no way to do that remotely. The nature of the measurements I do, there always need to be someone there, because if we do high voltage or high current, for safety reasons we need people around and knowing what’s happening. I do have a fair few doctor appointments and my work is very flexible as long as I get the work done.  

Abi-Cheales2.pngFor anyone who may have similar experiences to me, I’d say try to be open. Transparency with your manager is really important, especially if you have fluctuating disabilities. There is no rhyme or reasons to my disability. I think a lot of people are embarrassed, particularly if it’s an invisible disability, to discuss that with people. The thing that’s helped me the most is just being very candid and transparent – especially if you’re struggling. It’s hard and can be embarrassing but letting people know how you’re feeling and what your current capabilities are is far more important because then people can give you some slack or help you juggle responsibilities.  

On being a woman in science, I’d say try to make connections with other women and other femme presenting people. It can be difficult if you’re in an area that is particularly male dominated but having a support system around you is incredibly important.  

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