This is the final episode of a two-part series where Dr Bahijja talks with Dr Theodora (Thea) Stewart about her impressive career as a scientist, a musician, and more recently as the Lead Scientist and Manager of the London Metallomics Facility (LMF).
A facilities role in academia
Dr Stewart explains that after completing her postdoc, the conventional route in academia of finding a lectureship position, building a research group, finding a niche, the focus on publications and the stress of trying to get funding was not very appealing.
She initially accepted the position as a research fellow and considered doing a lectureship, however she found that what she really enjoyed was the ability to bring different areas together and identify interconnections to help people improve their research.
“I just found that to be so much more exciting and rewarding” – Dr Stewart
She found a lot of meaning in being able to work with instrument companies in developing new technology, opening new doors and allowing science to progress, and being the Manager and Lead Scientist now enables her to develop and evolve the facility so that the field can move forward.
Setting up the LMF
“I would be at work until 1AM” – Dr Stewart
Dr Stewart states that the hardest thing in setting up the LMF was the lack of support with respect to staff and infrastructure. She found herself doing everything – she was the technician and the procurement, she was ordering lasers, learning how to do laser ablation and elemental imaging.
After many struggles and long nights, the LMF is finally coming to fruition as a result of Dr Stewart’s determination and endurance. She emphasises the importance of holding onto your vision without second-guessing, despite what the current circumstances may be, just taking it moment by moment.
“If something doesn’t freak you out a little, it’s not big enough” – Dr Stewart on having a vision
What’s next for Dr Stewart and the LMF?
Dr Stewart is currently moving into a new role as Business Development Manager of the Research Management Innovation Directorate at RMID. At the LMF, she is stepping away a little from the day-to-day operational level, and looking more into facilitating external income, interactions and networking, which she also hopes to extend to other core facilities at King’s College London.
As a result, the LMF is expanding with the ability to take on new staff. Dr Stewart is also getting new technology for the LMF, where they’ll be able to look at the whole periodic table at once with advanced imaging techniques, as well as a new brand of laser.
Additionally, after receiving a grant from the Wellcome Leap Initiative, the LMF will be looking into understanding the progression of triple negative breast cancer – the first time ever that elemental bioimaging and metallomics has been applied to a multimodal imaging suite in the context of cancer.
The importance of interconnections
Dr Stewart highlights how the importance of chemistry is often overlooked, despite the periodic elements being, quite literally, the fundamental building blocks of life. Everything we perceive, including ourselves, is the consequence of complex interactions between the elements.
Does Dr Stewart still see herself as a chemist? The answer is a little more complicated than simply “yes” or “no” – Dr Stewart places much emphasis on the importance of seeing oneself as a whole, holistic human being with multiple facets. She sees herself as a biologist, a chemist and a physicist (as well as a musician), and stresses that the separation of different disciplines is what is “killing science” – being able to connect things together with insights from different fields will only be beneficial for scientific progress.
“We don’t see things connected, and the reality is that everything is connected” – Dr Stewart