By day I image people’s eyelashes, by night I photograph wildlife and landscapes. Currently, most of my time is spent switching between my full time job as a new product development scientist for one of the biggest companies in the world and my life as a photographer clambering around the countryside capturing the stunning beauty of the natural world.
At school I decided to pursue Biology, Chemistry, Mathematics and Economics for A Level, with no particular job in mind. For A2 I dropped Economics and progressed on with the other three as by then I had decided that I wanted to do a degree primarily Biology related.
I enrolled at Lancaster University on their BSc Biological Sciences Hons course. There was lots of flexibility in the modules to choose from, covering all sorts of life science disciplines, including Ecology, Biochemistry and Biomedicine. I worked hard during my first year and managed to secure one of only four places to head to Australia to study my second year at University of Wollongong, just south of Sydney. It was a fantastic year and one of the best experiences on my life, without a doubt.
After I graduated, I secured a 3 month internship down in London at Cancer Research UK’s headquarters in their science communications team. My degree dissertation had been cancer research related so it linked nicely to the science I had been studying in depth. I was converting and tailoring the research findings from the labs into layman’s terms for non-scientists, both within and outside the charity, for all sorts of important purposes.
Back at school I had done a week’s work experience at Boots headquarters and had a really fun time in their Formulation and Claims Evaluation departments. I had returned in 6th form to do a Nuffield Bursary four week science project with them. I spent my time running my own lip plumping lip gloss project; designing, making and testing my own creations. The project went well, leading to me being a finalist at the National Young Scientist of the Year Award and gaining a Gold Crest Award, fantastic additions to my CV. I had stayed in touch with my Boots contacts during my time at University so when I had returned from London I asked if there were any jobs available and was offered an interview. I became a formulator for a year and a half, working mostly on No7, Soap & Glory and Botanics skincare. It was my job to make the products from scratch in the labs and test them to ensure they were stable in different temperatures etc. so they could be sold in different climates across the world. When the formulations had been tweaked and improved I would then oversee the factories scaling up the process I had done, to ensure all the product on sale around the country matched what I had created.
Also a keen photographer, I discovered that the University of Nottingham, across the road from my office, was the only place in the world where you could study an MSc in Biological Photography & Imaging. The chance to combine my biological knowledge, and science communications experience, with photography seemed too perfect to be true so I applied and was offered a scholarship from the University.
I spent the following 12 months learning how to be a photographer, videographer, graphic designer and web designer gaining valuable skills, which now allow me to present scientific information in a wide variety of digital formats, from creating books and films to infographics and blog posts. Each week I would go on trips all around the country to photograph landscapes and wildlife for my assignments.
At the end of the course I returned to Boots and for the past year I have been a skincare and cosmetics Claims Evaluator, designing and running scientific studies to test the products on volunteers, such as the new No7 Triple Action Serum. It is my job to then analyse and report the data back to the rest of the business to ensure any claims which are made on final products have been proven. Often the studies involve using photography and advanced imaging equipment to capture detailed images of the skin or facial features. My photography and imaging expertise from my degree have added a whole new skill set capability to the team.
Not only has my master’s degree helped to create a scientific and photography orientated role for me to progress into at Boots, it has also provided me with the expertise to pursue turning my own photography into a business. After graduating I created my own photography portfolio website (www.imogenbarkerphotography.com) and regularly update my social media accounts and blog with my latest projects and work. It is proving to be a great way of continuing to develop my skills and network, whilst encountering new opportunities and experiences. I am now a Graduate Imaging Scientist and Associate of the Royal Photographic Society, have a book for sale on Amazon and have designed a clothing range featuring my photography, three things I never would have expected to be even remotely close to having back at school or University. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do but kept looking for ways to find opportunities which might lead to something, hopefully involving enjoyable experiences and a salary. So far it has worked out well.
Imogen Barker, Claims Evaluation Technologist