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People of Lincoln Agritech

Helen Ashmead

As a child, New Materials Research Scientist Helen Ashmead wanted to be a writer. But in her last years at school, she discovered chemistry, and was hooked!

As a child, I always wanted to be a writer. I wrote lots of short stories and poems and really enjoyed creating the characters and the worlds they lived in. I won a few awards and had a poem published when I was 11. It honestly wasn’t very good, but it made me want to continue writing.

During my 6th Form years I studied English literature, Spanish, history and chemistry. I found chemistry was like learning a new language. It was so exciting I decided that writing should be a hobby and I did my degree in chemistry.

Now, the only writing I do is for reports and proposals – I may be one of the few scientists who actually enjoys this! However, it’s not the same. As a child I wanted to write fiction – now, while I can be creative and propose new ideas, the writing is definitely based in fact.

I came to New Zealand when I got a PhD scholarship to study at the University of Canterbury, after doing my master’s in Liverpool. It’s the best thing that ever happened to me. It brought me to New Zealand, and now I never want to leave.

I started a year after the 2011 earthquake, and I was based at Callaghan Innovation in Wellington for most of my PhD. I came down to Christchurch on my second day in New Zealand and was shocked by the damage. It’s been amazing to watch Christchurch grow back into an incredible city.

What does your job involve?

As a Research Scientist, I split my time between working in the lab and planning project work. Working with the team, I help to design and implement experiments that are essential for hitting key milestones.

Much of our work involves connecting with people around the world to assess how our new materials perform in real life. I’ve particularly enjoyed this as it’s given me the opportunity to learn about a wide range of processes and to see the impact of what we’re working on down here in New Zealand. I’m also involved in coming up with new ideas and writing proposals that use the capabilities of our New Materials Group.

I really enjoy the variety of the work, working with such a great team and being involved in projects that will have a real impact in New Zealand and around the world.

How did you get to have this job?

I found the job on I’d been working in a protein purification lab for several years and wanted to get back into the research and development of new materials, so it seemed perfect. It also happened to be the same role that two of my friends from university had been in, so I knew what the job needed.

At the time, 2020, I was stuck in London. I booked my flight when the second wave of Covid hit and jumped on a plane back to Auckland as soon as I could.

I ended up having my interview while in managed isolation, which gave me lots of time to prepare! The only hiccup was being interrupted by a wellbeing check-up halfway through the interview. Luckily this didn’t hamper my chances and I started working at Lincoln Agritech two months later.

What motivates you?

I’m motivated by being introduced to new ideas and points of view. I think this is where my podcast addiction comes from (I’m listening to two at the moment but subscribe to eight).

If I could change one thing about the world, it would be that billionaires start paying their staff and taxes properly and therefore cease to be billionaires! I’m not sure if that’s how its works, but it certainly would be nice. Also, less food waste.