Debbie Wallace
Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) Manager

What was your dream career when you were younger?

I wanted to be all sorts, from a helicopter pilot to a midwife or a drug chemist!


What subjects did you study at school?

I did highers in Maths, English, Chemistry, Biology, Physics and German
I took Chemistry, Maths and Statistics on to advanced higher level.


Who or what has been your biggest inspiration?

My mum – she died when I was young and I always strive to make her proud.


How have the subjects you studied at school helped you in your career?

I studied all of the sciences at school and went on to study Chemistry at university, so school was a good grounding for my degree. I worked as a chemist/scientist for 8 years prior to my current role.

Studying German and French (standard grade) helped me to learn Spanish, which I speak fluently and allowed me to live in Spain.


Please briefly describe your STEM journey since leaving school.

I studied a MChem in Chemistry at the University of Aberdeen, which included modules in statistics, biology, physiology, geology and chemistry. I was lucky enough to do my Master research project in Toledo, Spain in my final year of my degree.

I started my career as a hazardous waste chemist working for a waste management company for 5 years – this involved a lot of outdoor work, visiting sites and testing samples, analysing data and reporting. I then moved to my current company, where I worked as a hazardous waste chemist for 2 years before being promoted to Process Scientist, looking after all the chemistry and biology at a waste processing plant. This involved daily sampling, lab analysis, report writing, data handling, using computer-based control systems and liaising with a large operations team. I then moved into EHS Manager role, which uses all of the interpersonal skills I have developed over my years of employment, in addition to my scientific knowledge for understanding the plant and the environment.


What skills do you utilise most in your career? 

Problem solving, practical skills, numerical reasoning, data analysis, communication.


What advice would you give to any young people considering a STEM career? 

Study what you enjoy! You’ll work harder and learn more if you like what you are doing. Try and relate what you are learning to topics that interest you, they’ll stick in your mind and be more interesting. Don’t be afraid to take a different route from what you expected, the first decision you make is not always the best one.