Sweet smell of success for new Falkirk college class

Lab technicians Lindsay Brown trys out a new perfume on lecturers Patrick Lawlor and Willie McCrae
Lab technicians Lindsay Brown trys out a new perfume on lecturers Patrick Lawlor and Willie McCrae
Share this article

A squirt of perfume could open up a whole new world – and employment opportunity – for would-be students.

The heady smell of scent may be all that is needed to encourage women to realise that science, and in particular chemical engineering, is a world away from grimy boiler suits and steel toe-cap boots. At least that’s what the staff at Forth Valley College’s Falkirk campus are hoping to achieve.

Perfume Club is a new evening class being launched this term and is part of an diverse range of subjects on offer – everything from science Highers to barbering skills, forensic computing to upholstery.

Although there is a fun aspect to the perfume class, which runs for three hours every Tuesday from September 9, there is also a serious side to the 10 weeks of classes.

Fiona Jackson, curriculum manager for applied sciences, explained how it was being set up to introduce more females to different STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) areas.

She said: “We’ve previously ran computer clubs for girls aged eight to 14 but this is different as we’re hoping to attract a slightly older course representation, perhaps women who have had their families and have never previously given a thought to science or chemical engineering. We want to show them the variety of options available.”

But before anyone begins to think about further education or employment, there’s the whole business of designing a new perfume.

Learners will delve into the world of blending their own scents using essential oils. They will then move on to the distillation room in the plant laboratory, learning how to use the mini rigs to distil large quantities of perfume.

Then it’s back to the drawing board, literally, to design the packaging for their product, creating mood boards and CAD (computer-aided design) drawings in the process.

Fiona added: “They will then have to do budgets and work out if it is viable to produce their perfume. There will be group work when they work on communication skills to come up with a presentation before they have to sell their idea to a group of college ‘Dragons’.

“There are a lot of different concepts to bring together over the 10 weeks but we’re sure that those taking part will enjoy the experience.”

The course is supported through the Scottish Government’s ‘Talking Science’ initiative. This is a new grants programme aimed at supporting public activities and events that get people talking about science, technology and engineering and how they impact on our everyday lives.

Evening classes offer people a ‘taste it and see’ opportunity, perhaps at a time in their lives when one door has closed and they are not sure what career opening to follow.

Previously people have come along looking at retraining but almost unsure of how to get back into education, explained Fiona.

An evening class offers that first step to returning to the world of study but can then lead to HNC or HND qualifications. There is also the chance to go on and study at university with Forth Valley College enjoying strong links which allows students to integrate prior to actually taking up their places.

“When we had a roadshow event in the Howgate it was interesting how many people thought they were too old to get involved in science, but that’s certainly not the case,” said Fiona

“We hope to be able to overcome any fears that people have about science – assure them that there isn’t a a ‘mad scientist’ lurking in every lab.

“It would be great if this could be a stepping stone to encourage women – and men – to seriously consider a career in science.”

Colleague Mhairi Hay, curriculum manager for chemical sciences, said there is a definite gender imbalance in science subjects and one they would be happy to change.

She said: “While there is usually a 50:50 ratio in chemistry classes, physics tends to be male-dominated – I was the only girl in a class of 20 when I was studying physics.

“There is this perception that being an engineer is all wearing dirty boiler suits and outdoor working which couldn’t be further from the truth nowadays. An engineer can be involved in a huge variety of roles.

“Renewables is a huge growth industry and there is going to be a need for engineers working on and offshore. Life sciences is also a growth area, perhaps not involving large companies, but there is a lot of SME’s (small-to-medium sized enterprises) out there who will need people.”

Fiona added: “It’s definitely a move away from traditional science industries but its certainly an area of growth. There is a lot of research going on and all these labs will need technicians.

“Scotland also has a focus on medical health care and biomechanics, so although these are all different areas of science, there is still 
going to be a huge demand.”

She said it was important to get the message across about the opportunities available now and in the future.

“Perhaps some of those who have been employed in the industry for a number of years aren’t too great at getting that across, which is why we have to adopt a whole new approach.

“We’re hopeful that the Perfume Club is not only a fun way to learn more about science but will open people’s eyes to the potential of working in this field.”