Inspirational Woman: Liz Bonnin | Biochemist, Wild Animal Biologist & Presenter

Liz Bonnin - Inspirational Woman

Liz Bonnin, is a Biochemist, Wild Animal Biologist & Presenter, and is currently a role model for EDF Energy’s #PrettyCurious campaign.

The new programme, launched by EDF Energy, aims to change teenage girls’ perceptions of science and inspire them to pursue science-based careers. EDF Energy has collaborated with Liz and three other role models to help demonstrate to teenage girls the breadth of career opportunities available to them. A short video about these role models can be found here.

Tell us a bit about yourself, your background and what you do currently

I studied Biochemistry and Wild Animal Biology at University. I fell into television after my first degree and presented entertainment shows like Top of the Pops, but my first love has always been science and I returned to academia to complete a Masters degree.

I then got the chance to combine my passion for science with a new found love for communicating it on television and have worked on all sorts of science and natural history programmes, including Bang Goes the Theory, Horizon, Stargazing Live, Operation Snow Tiger and Super Smart Animals.

I just returned from California, filming a programme about marine wildlife called Big Blue Live and am currently working on a series about animal migrations for BBC1, filming in Canada, Kenya and Botswana. I’m also gearing up for another series of Stargazing Live in January.

I have always been curious about the world around me and dreamed of travelling the world when I was little. My career allows me to meet scientists working at the top of their field and l am constantly learning new things about the natural world. I feel very lucky to be doing what I do.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I’ve always loved science from a young age and knew I wanted to learn about the world around me, but I never really planned exactly how I would achieve that. In fact my career path has changed several times over the years.

After graduating with my Biochemistry degree I took a year out, sang in a band, travelled and then got the chance to present a music show in Ireland which led to me presenting other programmes in the UK. I had a fantastic time, but I missed science and that’s when I decided to go back to school and complete a Masters in Wild Animal Biology and Conservation.

It was only then that it all came together and I got the chance to become a science presenter - communicating what I am passionate about and hopefully inspiring others about the world around them too.

I am a big advocate for not putting yourself under too much pressure to find to perfect career early in life. My advice would be to experiment and to not be afraid to try new things and change your mind. It’s the only way to discover what you love and what’s right for you.

Unfortunately many young girls do become disengaged with STEM subjects

Have you faced any challenges along the way and if so, how did you deal with them?

Of course I’ve had many challenges along the way - it certainly hasn’t always been easy - but I’ve found that if you believe in something enough and are prepared to work hard for it, you can achieve your dreams. The most important thing is to do what you truly care about and not make money or other factors influence your decision. This will make it so much easier to get out of bed in the morning and to work really hard when you have to. My most rewarding experience was to complete my research project in Nepal when so many things were working against me. But I desperately wanted to work on tiger conservation so dug my heels in and refused to give up. And it was so worth it in the end.

I was lucky to have great support from my family and teachers who encouraged my love for science. Unfortunately many young girls do become disengaged with STEM subjects at some point and currently only one in 7 people in the STEM workforce are female. As a science communicator I feel very strongly about doing my bit to tackle this issue.

I’m currently working with EDF Energy on the #PrettyCurious campaign to try and address the gender imbalance in STEM careers. Research has shown that young girls are just as capable as boys in all the sciences so it’s important to encourage and inspire them to maintain this inherent aptitude and their curiosity for the world around them.

On a typical workday, how do you start your day and how does it end?

The nature of my job means that there is rarely a ‘typical day’, which I find exciting. I could be in accompanying scientists as they tag blue whales to learn more about their ecology or at interviewing the NASA engineers who made it possible for the Curiosity Rover to land on Mars. I also have days at my desk, pouring through scientific papers in preparation for the next shoot, and I relish those days too because I get to learn about the latest exciting discoveries and developments in all sort of STEM fields.

The perception of scientists working in a lab 24/7 is so outdated. In my career I have met so many scientists doing incredible things around the globe, pushing boundaries to discover more about this extraordinary planet of ours. Hopefully through the programmes we make we can inspire young people to embark on similar career paths. Scientists are adventurous, creative and passionate people who are often the happiest people I’ve ever met.

How have you benefited from coaching or mentoring?

I’ve never really had any official coaching or mentoring but I have been inspired by so many of the scientists I’ve met throughout my life - from my lecturers at University to the scientists I meet when we film. Not only do they inspire me to want to do more to protect the natural world but they’ve also shown me how important it is to be passionate about what you do in life, and to be resilient, determined and hard working, even when the odds are against you.

That’s why I believe that my role as a science communicator is to help to inspire the next generation and why campaigns like #Pretty Curious are great vehicles for this.

What does the future hold for you?

I hope to continue to do what I do for many years to come. I can safely say that I love my job and I know that this is still somewhat a rare thing to say, so I do feel very lucky. I’d like to go back to University again and complete a PhD, and the topic is changing all the time - from field research for tiger conservation to something that can lead to influencing much needed changes in conservation policies at government level. So I am stewing over a couple of ideas but hopefully this is something I can do in the near future.

Ultimately as long as I’m doing something that excites me and challenges me every day, I’m happy.