Poet Rachel Revels in the Application of Science
It's difficult to understand how the Periodic Table could provide inspiration for a poet – particularly one of the UK's rising talents. The list of chemical elements, organised on the basis of their atomic number electron configurations and recurring chemical properties, is hardly the stuff to inspire moving and inspirational words wrung from the heart.
But Westcountry wordsmith Rachel McCarthy is different; a literature-loving writer from a firmly scientific background.
By day, she works as a climate research scientist at the Met Office in Exeter, ensuring that cutting-edge studies into climate variability and change are communicated to a wide range of audiences in an accurate but understandable form. But away from her statistics and data, she is director of the Exeter Poetry Festival, the driving force behind the booming ExCite Poetry community group and one of the most exciting new voices in British poetry to win the personal commendation of the Poet Laureate.
To those who maintain that Science and the Arts don't mix, Rachel might seem a curious contradiction. But as the Exeter-based poet explains, it is her love of both which has shaped her life and led to her successes.
Born and raised in the North West, Rachel, 30, has always combined a love of literature and science. She said: "I was looking through some old school reports from when I was five, six and seven. Each said 'She enjoys writing and she enjoys science'. I am one of those polymath types; this path has always been there."
At college, where she studied an unusual combination of science subjects and English Literature, she sought advice on what sort of career path she should follow.
Rachel said: "I spoke to my English teacher, who suggested I go down the science route." From a practical point of view, it made sense.
She said: "We were in a difficult economic climate. I figured that I might be able to operate a nuclear reactor by day then write at night, but that I wouldn't be able to do it the other way round. When it came to choosing a career I took the scientific route, partly for the love of it, partly as it offered more financially practical opportunities."
She studied Natural Sciences at Durham University, graduating in 2006 with double first class honours in Chemistry and Physics. But from there, it was back home to her parents in Leyland, near Preston, and an 18-month stint working in a bookmaker's – dealing with matters of the turf rather than prose and printing.
Rachel said: "I really enjoyed it there. I started applying for scientific jobs while earning the money to move and waited to see what happened."
In a twist of fate, she was offered two opportunities on the same day: to study for a PhD in Galway or take up a job offer at the Met Office in Exeter. She said: "I had never been to Devon before, but decided to move here. I came down on my own, I didn't know anyone. But Exeter is a small city compared to Liverpool and Manchester. I am thankful it is. You can get to know a lot of people, and see them often quite easily."
It was that decision to move to Exeter in 2008 which propelled her into sharing her poetry with like-minded people – and led to her involvement with Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy.
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