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Nontraditional Careers

Career Ladder

Career Ladder: Kat Day

Communication skills and attention to detail assisted this chemist turned teacher turned writer and editor through multiple career transformations

by Brianna Barbu
March 6, 2022 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 100, Issue 9


An old photo of a teacher handing a young Kat Day a book.
Credit: Courtesy of Kat Day
Day has loved books of all kinds since she was a child.


Patterns of curiosity

As a child in Basingstoke, England, Kat Day says she was “a very keen reader,” enjoying books on all sorts of topics such as science fiction, fantasy, physics, and psychology. She was drawn to chemistry because she liked the patterns in how small pieces of matter interact with each other. At 16, she followed that interest to a job in an analytical testing lab at Eli Lilly and Company’s UK headquarters. While there, Day finished the educational qualifications she needed to start a chemistry bachelor’s degree at the University of Reading.

Kat and Steve Day standing together outdoors.
Credit: Courtesy of Kat Day
Day met her future husband, Steve, during her PhD in chemistry at the University of Nottingham.


Academic adventures

Because of her lab experience, Day says she “could out-titrate anybody standing,” though she didn’t have as strong of an academic background as many of her classmates. “I had to scramble a bit to catch up.” But catch up she did. Day earned her bachelor’s degree with honors and then decided to pursue a PhD at the University of Nottingham, where she used infrared spectroscopy to study molecules interacting with a single-crystal metal surface. It was often finicky work, she says, but she liked the department culture and the city, where she met her husband, Steve. “I found my natural home,” she says.


Internet interlude

Post-PhD, Day talked her way into a job on the university’s web design team. “It was a time when you could literally just pick this stuff up,” she says. Not many people were online then, but she knew it wouldn’t be long before everyone was, and she wanted to be involved. “It was an exciting time, because you could see that everything was about to change.”


Kat Day holding a cupcake with a Bunsen burner drawn on top using colorful icing.
Credit: Courtesy of Kat Day
Day loved planning and delivering lessons as a teacher but was less enamored with grading.

Those who can, teach

After a few years, Day started to miss science, so she trained to become a secondary school teacher. Over the next 16 years, she taught introductory science and upper-level chemistry at four different schools in and around Oxford. Though she liked planning lessons and working with students, “ultimately, I could not see myself teaching up till retirement.” In 2013, after her first child was born, Day decided to pursue a long-held interest in writing. She created a website, the Chronicle Flask, and started posting tongue-in-cheek musings on chemistry. She kept teaching for several years while she built up her writing and editing credentials, eventually leaving the classroom in 2019.


Kat Day holding a book with the title “24 Stories” in white on a multicolored background.
Credit: Courtesy of Kat Day
Day’s fiction was featured in an anthology to raise money for people affected by the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire in London.

The “write” mix of skills

Day’s freelance writing and editing portfolio now includes content for science books, videos, magazines, and more. She also works part time as a medical editor for the health-care marketing company McCann Health. Though the Chronicle Flask is no longer active, Day regularly posts about fun science facts on Twitter, and she has started writing fiction, including a story published in a 2018 anthology. Throughout her career, Day says the skills she relied on as a scientist—written communication, attention to detail, and dealing with complex ideas—have been invaluable. “Good chemists have a lot of different skills,” she says. “It’s just a question of bending them to a slightly different application.”


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