Dr Jill Cainey is a climatologist working as Global Applications Director – Energy Storage for S&C Electric Company.
Jill studied Chemistry, Physics and Maths at high school in England.
Jill didn’t do as well as she hoped at school and missed out on getting into the university of her choice. She took a year off then went to a polytechnic which she says was a much more practical learning experience.
She was not great at maths but says you can’t avoid it. Maths has been very necessary for her career, which has included computer modelling and meteorology.
I did not know what I wanted to be when I grew up – I still don’t really know. I have just always pursued things that interest me or matter to me.
I had a crazy chemistry teacher and I loved chemistry, so I was always going to follow a career in chemistry.
I was given the book 'Gaia' by James Lovelock, which talks about how life modifies the atmosphere to make it sustainable for life so that inspired me to study the chemistry of the atmosphere.
University and first job
Jill completed a BSc (Hons) in Chemistry and Physics in England.
Her first job was as a food analyst for a dairy company to provide the content (fat, carbohydrate etc.) on the nutritional labels.
It wasn't very exciting but it was a proper science job where I wore a lab coat and safety specs, we played with test tubes and all kinds of exciting stuff.
She went from that job to working on asthmatic devices and the effectiveness of drug delivery.
Jill became interested in the chemistry of the atmosphere after reading a book called Gaia.
She came to Australia to study PhD in Atmospheric Chemistry. Then she worked in New Zealand and Tasmania as an atmospheric scientist, adding meteorology to her skills.
Jill returned to England and retrained (at 40 years old) as a Primary School teacher and taught 7-8 year olds for three years, specialising in teaching science to very young people and working with disadvantaged and vulnerable children who find mainstream approaches to education challenging.
I really enjoyed teaching, I was very good at behaviour management, primary teaching is multidisciplinary, you have to be able to teach everything, French, Maths even PE, which was not my favourite thing.
Because she could only get temporary work as a teacher, Jill also worked part-time in the UK electricity industry.
I gained experience (I have no formal qualifications) working on electricity storage, eventually becoming CEO of the Electricity Storage Network, which is a trade group for business interested in electricity storage (e.g. batteries).
Jill led the industry in the UK for five years, becoming the UK’s expert on the treatment of storage in electricity legislation. She helped to write Government bills and provided advice to Government.
Jill’s advice to students
STEM is about being endlessly curious and wanting to know things – since it’s not possible to know everything, it’s going to keep us busy for a long while to come.
If you are thinking of studying STEM I would say do it, it's not the easiest choice, but work hard on the difficult things and train and exercise your brain. The reward for solving some of the most important problems the world is going to face would be the best thing you can do.
Jill says that the key personal attributes and skills that have contributed to her success are:
- good research skills
- integrity, when working with Governments and agencies, integrity is essential
- it is critical to treat everyone with respect and fairness.
Don’t be too ‘sensible’ and be prepared to take a risk. STEM is about being endlessly curious and wanting to know things – since it’s not possible to know everything, it’s going to keep us busy for a long while to come.
Colleagues have always been very willing to share their knowledge and to put effort into training me.
Everyone you ever meet is going to be part of your network. Without meaning it to be so, all my jobs have links to previous jobs, through the people I worked with. This is why it is critical to treat everyone with respect and fairness.
Do what you enjoy and are passionate about.
Jill’s current job
Jills role involves working with Governments and Energy Regulators to develop the sustainable electricity system of the future. In particular, she looks at how large-scale batteries can be used to store energy. Jill has to understand the science as well as the complexities of government policies and how the energy and electricity markets operate.
Jill chose to work in this sector because she is a climate scientist. Addressing climate change is all about how we create and use energy and so she wants to lead the changes that are needed to reduce global warming.
If we all understand the importance of how we make and use electricity, then we can all have a role in addressing climate change.
My role is a global role, I don't just respond to issues in Australia although that is my primary purpose, I work for the business in Canada, the UK and Europe doing exactly the same thing which means I have to have a really broad knowledge of the different government policies and the changing energy systems.
Jill was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) for services to Energy Technology and the communities of Wiltshire, in June 2017.
STEM at work
I mainly use digital technologies to communicate. I started using the internet before the WWW was established to communicate with fellow scientists around the world. My STEM training has taught me how to be analytical, how to research and how to produce evidence-based information. These skills give me influence.