“Science drew me in with its process of hypothesise, experiment, summarise, adapt, repeat,” explains forensic toxicologist Dr Wendy Popplewell.
I love the idea that failure is as important as success – you learn from what didn’t work as much as you do from what did. And there is always more to know.”
Wendy credits her interest in science to “a fabulous chemistry teacher” at high school. But inspired as she was, Wendy was cautious of limiting her career options to science. At university, she opted for a BSc/BCA conjoint degree. “The combination helped me get a really broad university education, but it also quickly confirmed for me that science was where my passion lay,” she says.
Following her undergraduate degree, Wendy completed a one-year Honours degree in organic chemistry and then moved straight into a PhD in analytical organic chemistry followed by two post-doctoral fellowships: at Rhodes University in Grahamstown South Africa and then at the National Cancer Institute in Maryland USA.
Wendy has been working as a forensic toxicologist at ESR for 10 years now. A typical day might involve analysing biological samples for drugs and poisons to assist in determining cause of death, including helping to establish state of mind or impairment at the time of death. As such, Wendy often works closely with police, pathologists and coroners.
Being able to help provide some answers for grieving whānau following the passing of a loved one is something that Wendy finds particularly rewarding about her job.
That and helping women establish themselves with equality, respect and a true sense of belonging in all fields of science.