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St Gabriel’s

St Gabriel’s

Interview with Ms Jessica Hammett: Head of Science

How did your interest in science develop?
When I was a little girl, my big brother, Simon, used to order butterfly eggs and we would watch them hatch into caterpillars, feed them on particular leaves and then metamorphose into delicate little creatures. We also kept tropical fish and used binoculars to spot shy birds in the woods. My mother was a keen gardener and would walk me around the garden naming species and collecting seeds. So my interest in science came from the habitats around me and the interests of my family. 

Why did you become a Science teacher?
I have always been a strong communicator and quite a concrete thinker. I loved the challenge of biochemistry at university and followed that up with a Masters in Science Communication. People ask, 'do you do the same things every year?’ – but it really isn’t like that, with every group and every child bringing something real and often immensely amusing to my day.

Who is your science hero?
The first who springs to mind is Fred Sanger. He was a British biochemist who won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry, twice – an amazing achievement. Fred Sanger worked out the structure of the protein insulin and then went on to collaborate on DNA sequencing – a slow and laborious process, which paved the way for automised sequencing and the bioinformatics which we see today.

Are you drawn to a specific area of science?
I am definitely a molecular biochemist, with strong leanings towards medicinal biochemistry. I have been teaching for over 30 years now so can turn my hand to all parts of the specification and questions. I also enjoy writing examination questions – it is a real challenge and gives me an enormous buzz when you look at the skills and logic you have asked for.

Why are practical experiments so important in learning science?
Because we do not live in Ancient Greece anymore!  The whole of our scientific method revolves around falsification of hypotheses. We cannot do this without collecting evidence and that is where practical research comes in.  School-based experiments are essential to give the girls opportunities to use apparatus, follow instructions and to consider errors. The reformed specification requirements have made certain practicals essential and with a level of maths to go with them. I am really pleased with the new standard and expectation.

What advice would you give to any pupil looking to develop a career in science?
Go for it! There are so many avenues these days to suit all interests. Research your degree choice carefully and pay attention to where students have gone on to work. Carefully consider courses with industrial placements in this country or abroad. Be prepared for the difference between academic research and working in a company – there will always be an element of management and a loss of practical time whether you are in commercial or a university type environment.

Can you tell us about students who have gone on to degrees/careers in science?
In the last two years, we have helped girls go on to read medicine, veterinary science, engineering, biomedical science, biology and biochemistry.  As always, Mrs Porter is a mine of information when it comes to St Gabriel's old girls and where they are now.

This year, we have also had some really super talks from parents who work in science and have come in to share their knowledge in lunch time seminars.

Do you think we are alone in the universe?
I do not really work in belief systems. Show me evidence of aliens, and then obviously they exist.

Do you have any other message you want to share with pupils?
Balance is an extremely important thing in life. Science teaching has been my career, but I have gained so much pleasure from music, my family, my friends and the natural world.