Next in our series of updates on the talented young people involved with the Creative Sparks programme is a spotlight on Courtney Williams!
How did you get involved with Creative Sparks? I remember the first email I received from Ignite! very well because it ended up in my spam folder by mistake. Thankfully I checked it in time and didn't miss out on the opportunity. I was nominated for the Creative Spark award by the Lincolnshire and Rutland Education Business Partnership, after I took part in the Nuffield Bursary Scheme. This scheme involved me spending six weeks in Summer 2009 working at the University of Sheffield. My project focused on neutrinos – tiny, neutral particles that are able to pass through matter so easily that they can't be directly detected. I took this project to the 2009 Big Bang Fair, then the EU Contest for Young Scientists in Paris. What did you do as part of the Creative Sparks programme? Unfortunately I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety soon after receiving my award, which eventually led to me leaving my first university course. It also meant I couldn't engage as fully as I should have with the opportunities afforded me by Creative Sparks. However, the award enabled me to do things that I could never have dreamed of doing otherwise, such as attending conferences, buying equipment and taking part in further research placements, even if these things never coalesced into a defined project. How has your career developed since then? I'm currently in my last year of studying with the Open University, which has enabled me to study flexibly, look after my health and pursue other interests at the same time. I've mostly concentrated on physics, but was also able to take modules in archaeology, geology and mental health. Outside of studying I work at a local charity, tutor and help with science activity days for secondary school pupils, as well as running New To Sci Comm, a directory of opportunities and resources. I also volunteer at the Science Museum and plan to apply for jobs there after my final exams in June. I would like to study for a masters degree in physics in the future, but am less single-minded about entering an academic career than I was before Creative Sparks. Part of this is due to my illness and how it has impacted my academic studies, but Creative Sparks also helped me to explore science communication and how I might be able to contribute to making STEM accessible to more people, particularly young people from similar backgrounds to me. My experience of mental health issues has also led me to consider the role wellbeing plays in effective STEM education. What kind of role does creativity play in your life? The most important thing I learned through Creative Sparks is that science is an inherently creative endeavour. This perspective has helped me immensely in learning and passing knowledge onto others. Creativity is particularly vital in science communication for many reasons – the key one for me is that it's all about finding better ways to engage people, particularly those who haven't been included previously. On a more personal level, being creative helps me manage my wellbeing, whether through hobbies like knitting and cooking, or finding solutions to the problems posed by trying to lead a busy life while managing my mental health.