Meet the Science Council’s new Chief Executive, Della Freeth

By 21.09.23

Della Freeth recently joined the Science Council as our new Chief Executive. Read on to learn more about her and what she is looking forward to in her new role.

Della joins us most recently from the Royal College of Physicians. Prior to this, she worked in several senior roles in universities – although she started out in secondary school teaching.

“Learning has always been my passion,” she says. “I originally studied maths and statistics and became a maths teacher. I then moved into demographic research. When it was time to choose a PhD area, I thought about statistics or demography, but I decided to research higher and professional education. “Transitions really interest me,” she says. “I was intrigued to understand how people learn, both in preparation for workplaces and within workplaces. We tend to think that learning transfers unproblematically – and it simply doesn’t. Learning is much more context-specific than people realise.”

As Della’s career developed, she increasingly took roles where she could benefit students university-wide. After working in four contrasting universities, an opportunity arose at the Royal College of Physicians. “I thought it would be really interesting to apply my expertise in that context,” Della says. “I supported continuing professional development and credentialling of physicians along with other healthcare professionals.”

Della’s own experience of grasping the career opportunities that came her way is part of why she is so passionate about supporting career development for others.
“I was the first person in my family to go to university. I learned it’s very important to be aware of your strengths and weaknesses, play to one’s strengths, and have the courage to grasp opportunities when they arise. But I also had individuals who believed in me along my career and were instrumental in me pushing myself or having the courage to take a step into the unknown. I think it’s really important that all of us recognise potential in others, and encourage it.”

On joining Science Council as Chief Executive, Della says, “I was looking for a role where I could apply my expertise around professional learning, the emergence of new professions and how to support people to be the best kind of professional that they can be. The Science Council focuses on the scientific workforce in all its complexity and its diversity and so it felt like the ideal role. I’m very much looking forward to working at the Science Council with lots of interesting colleagues from many different areas.”

Della is a firm advocate of non-traditional routes into science careers. “I think we should celebrate a diversity of ways of getting from A to B. Because there’s absolutely no reason why everybody should tread the same path. I feel strongly that careers cannot be planned – careers evolve.”

Joining the Science Council feels like something of a homecoming, Della says, as it takes her back to her original disciplinary base. However, it is also the inter-disciplinary nature of Science Council’s work which excites her. “One of the Science Council’s great benefits and one of its purposes is around allowing the different member bodies to interact across the disciplines in science, but also providing professional registrations which are not discipline-specific,” she says. “People may never lose their love for their original discipline, but their work trajectory may lead them to require less discipline-specific professional credentials. These complement the discipline-specific registrations that our chartered Member bodies offer.”

As Della gets settled into her role at Science Council, she is spending time listening to and learning from colleagues within the Science Council and across our member organisations. “I’ve written to all the CEOs or equivalents of the 36 member bodies asking to meet them and hear about what it is that they connect to with the Science Council and how the Science Council fits in with their organisation strategy.

“For me, this is a really special time to hear people’s narratives about the Science Council. I’m hearing that we have some real jewels that should be treasured, and things where we might have a bit of work to do. It has been a rich few weeks in that respect.”

Della is looking forward to extending the Science Council’s work and interest in wellbeing in the workplace, and tackling systemic barriers to wellbeing. “People’s well-being at work is very important. It’s something that’s been reflected in the work I’ve done down the years and I think it’s something that the Science Council can speak to.

“I’m also a strong advocate for equity, diversity and inclusion. The Science Council has an EDI framework and benchmarking process and is already doing important work in that field that I would certainly wish to continue. I think we have to be particularly vigilant to whether decades of progress around EDI might suddenly veer off in a different direction with post-pandemic models of working.”

“I’ve been struck by how friendly and welcoming the community attached to the Science Council is and how willing people have been to share their thoughts and ideas,” Della says about her first few weeks. “I would like to say that I do appreciate everyone’s warmth, and I would hope it would continue.”