Natalie Whitehead

Natalie Whitehead

Natalie Whitehead is a Physics undergraduate described as a “galvanising force” within her subject in terms of student engagement and outreach. Natalie took what she terms a “slightly unusual route” to her current role; after her A Levels she spent three years working as a consulting engineer whilst studying for a degree part time, before deciding to become a full time student at Exeter. She said: “It was quite a big decision to leave my previous career (and salary) but I was fortunate to be surrounded by people who had some 'unusual' career paths, and I saw that it was ok to change it all around and do something completely different, if that something makes you happy.”

Natalie, who has accepted an offer to undertake a PhD at Exeter, said she has been fortunate not to experience any hindrance in her career or otherwise, as a woman. She added: “In fact, I think it's actually helped make me 'stand out' a little in the male-dominated careers I have chosen.” Although concerned about the compatibility of academia with a healthy work-life balance in the future, Natalie said: “I'm sure this also affects men a great deal too. I'm optimistic that initiatives like Athena Swan in STEM subjects, for example, will work to ensure flexible working opportunities for all employees in academia.”

Passionate about her subject, Natalie has been instrumental in the successful delivery of the University of Exeter ‘Girls into Physics’ programme, a project developed to improve the way in which younger girls engage with physics within schools and acquire understanding of science in broader society. She said: “I love studying physics as it's such a profound subject; not only do you develop incredibly useful skills, you get to learn about the whole universe! I also really enjoy inspiring others about the subject, so I take part in as many outreach visits as I can, and also have a couple of mentoring roles in maths and physics too. Young people need enthusiastic role models to show them how great science and maths can be! I'd really like to make a difference, however small, in changing their perceptions of science from seeming like a scary subject to something exciting, interesting and relevant to everyone.”