SHARE alumna profile: Carly Whittaker

Carly Whittaker is Principal Sustainability and Compliance Specialist in the RTFO Unit at the Department for Transport. She will be speaking and sharing her experiences at the SHARE Early Career Researchers’ Forum on Wednesday 13 May in Glasgow.

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Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your current role?

I have worked in the field of bioenergy and life cycle assessment since 2006, mainly in academia but with a bit of time dabbling in consultancy. It’s really my passion. When I decided to leave academia there was only one place that I wanted to go: the Department for Transport (DfT). That sounds a bit strange, but the DfT is home to the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO), which has been in operation since 2008. That means that people behind the RTFO have had to deal with all the same headaches that the bioenergy research community has dealt with over the years. The team has a great deal of expertise and experience. I work in the RTFO Unit which assesses the sustainability of biofuels, and based on that we reward certificates to sustainable fuel. The work I do supports the decarbonisation of one of the most difficult sectors to decarbonise: transport.

What are the key things you’re working on right now?

I work in the Low Carbon Fuels team in DfT supporting the RTFO Unit with technical assessments of fuels and applications for certificates. I am also working in the Regulation Team and doing some policy development on fuels produced from fossil wastes, such as non-recyclable plastic.

What was your involvement with SHARE?

I used to be the SHARE Chair! In 2015, I think? I loved it; we were a good team. My Co-Chair and I arranged a couple of SHARE workshops where we saw a Miscanthus plantation near Bath, we held a mock research ‘sandpit’, busted some bioenergy myths and had a tractor ride around Rothamsted Research.

How do you think SHARE helped you in your career progression?

SHARE was great for networking, sharing ideas and getting inspiration from other people at an early career research level. If you get a lot of clever people in the same room, you know that something good will happen!

How important is it for researchers to engage with policymakers, and what’s the best way to do that?

I think that some improvements can be made regarding engagement with policymakers. Looking back, I didn’t know what policy-relevant research was. But I’d advise researchers to learn what government policies are, consider responding to consultations where you can offer expertise, and reach out where you have questions. And the thing is… my door is always open. We are not hiding away.

What top three tips would you offer researchers at the beginning of their careers?

– Talk to people. Engage. Network. You’ll learn more from other people than what you can absorb from your own research.

– Don’t fear doing something that is outside of academia – there are lots of fascinating jobs out there.

– Most importantly: You haven’t failed if you don’t ‘make it’ in academia.  If you have done something that you have a) got paid for and b) you found it interesting then you have hit the jackpot.