British Science Week celebrates STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths). This year, the national event is running from 11–20 March.

We spoke with two graduates who work within these fields to learn more about their careers and how they make a difference to society. We also asked them to share their advice with graduates and students who might be considering a STEM career. 

To kickstart this year’s series, we met with alumna Marie Oldfield who studied BSc Mathematics and Statistics in 2009 and then a postgrad in MSc Applied Science. She’s currently completing a PhD in Artificial Intelligence.

Alongside her impressive academic accomplishments, Marie has single-handedly built two successful businesses from the ground up and hosts podcasts for both. She is a true STEM ambassador who has built a career around helping others; through problem-solving with technological solutions, offering personal development and giving time to support multiple groups in need.

Marie shares her thoughts on this year’s theme of growth, her exciting career journey and words of advice for those considering a career in STEM:

Celebrating British Science Week

This year’s theme resonates with me in twofold. The first way in which ‘growth’ is key is making science an interdisciplinary place to work. For example, being able to communicate with non-technical disciplines to provide a better output that works with society, and not against it. If we want to build products, we have to involve experts in psychology, sociology and philosophy, not just build models and then try to ‘reverse engineer’ ethics and transparency into them.

The second stream of growth is around women and diversity. We need to look around the room and ask who is not there. We have to challenge our preconceived notions of who matters and we have to, if we have any respect for society and the future, be truly diverse. We should talk about diversity; involving everyone in professions and the workplace as well as the science disciplines. Don’t just pay lip service to encourage diverse people into learned societies, actually do it. Advertising alone doesn’t work, it has to be an ethos and have pipelines for contribution. We are not islands. The more diverse a team is, the better it can communicate, challenge and perform.

My career journey

Helping others is something that connects everything I’ve ever done.

I previously had a pro-bono role as the Global Director for Statistics for the American Statistical Association. During this time, I worked in Africa building education for girls and better habitats for wildlife. We’d also produce analysis projects to encourage rehoming of dogs and cats and I am very proud to have been on the modelling rapid response teams for the Nepal Earthquake and Ebola outbreak in Africa. 

I also run a group called Women in Tech, set up to help women in situations at work where they experienced sexism and problems with careers due to having children. And another group on AI that encourages interdisciplinary working within the technology and humanities disciplines to implement tech that is safe for society. Giving back to the community and in particular, education, mental health and women in tech, is a cornerstone of my philosophy.

My career path has not been a linear one. I knew very early on that I wanted excitement and change within my work life… I didn’t want to do one job forever. I worked as a contractor for several years and then worked within a permanent role for two years. It wasn’t long after that I realised this path wasn’t for me. Shortly after, I received a phone call asking if I would like to go and work with NATO in Holland on Operational Research Defence Work. There was one caveat, to do so, I would need my own company. This was just the boost I needed and I have never looked back. 

Oldfield Consultancy has grown from a one-person contracting company to a global consultancy that employs contractors and works with some of the biggest names in the world. I can’t say this was easy, it took a lot of hard work but I now have the job I always wanted and own a global consultancy.

We have been hired by, and helped, multiple clients across different sectors and implemented ground breaking work on large scales. For example, within the health and science sector, we’ve worked with the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory on sepsis biomarker modelling so they can catch sepsis earlier on in patients. Within entertainment, we’ve worked with Two Four Media to reformat the ‘Beat the Chef’ TV series based on probability. Then with the public sector entertainment, we’ve worked closely with the Ministry of Defence implementing a new global IT system with new technology and procurement processes. These are just a few examples of the diverse range of companies within different sectors we’ve supported. 

Throughout my career, I saw a lot of issues with leadership and it was this that led me to set up my second business, Kuinua Coaching with the view of having top experts teach and coach leadership and negotiation. It has been so rewarding and amazing to see the results. People have come to us and we have helped them to grow in their roles and careers, as well as in their personal lives.

Sharing my knowledge and learning from others

I have always enjoyed speaking to people, finding out new things and people’s opinions. Now, I run two podcasts on YouTube, one for both companies. AI AIght was started to explain complex concepts and technical topics in an easy-to-digest way and to offer insight into how Artificial Intelligence (AI) works. Kuinua Podcast started in 2020 when there was a lot of negativity online. We share real people’s stories and discuss mindset, leadership and entrepreneurial issues to help professionals develop and grow.

I am an active member within multiple networks too. I like to span out and look for groups and networks which might help or educate me. I try to get a range of understanding and opinion. I don’t believe CPD is purely academic; it comes in understanding the environment and context of my work too. Here are a few of the networks I am involved with.

  • Sprite + which offers support on security, privacy, identity and trust in the digital economy
  • TAS which deals with AI and autonomous systems
  • The European Working Group for Operational Research and Modelling (EWG)
  • The Othership – an amazing and collaborative community for entrepreneurs
  • The Consultants Network at the OR Society for data scientists, analysts and AI professionals offering training, events, journals and more

My time at Portsmouth

My university experience didn’t start at Portsmouth. I started my course with another university but was having a hard time. A friend of mine suggested that we move to Portsmouth, I agreed and transferred. I made some great friends on my course and in halls who helped me through the tough times. I never felt isolated, I always felt supported – the staff have always been open and approachable and really helpful. There is no other University I have visited or been to that has a community quite like it!

Words of advice to those considering a career in STEM

My advice would be to make sure you enjoy it and you’re getting into this field for the right reasons. Always critically question the company, yourself and your ethics. It is very easy to be swept away on a higher purpose and pigeonholed into finance, lab work or data analysis.

Remember the following: you are highly employable, your skills are in high demand and you have a huge amount of jobs open to you, some of which you might not even think of. It can be a hard field but it can also be very rewarding. If anyone tells you that you can’t do it, do what's right for you because there is always a way. After all, I went back to University to do a foundation year, a Bachelor’s degree, an MSc and now a PhD in something I was told early on I shouldn’t even be considering.