One of our inspiring 225 Academy Mentors, Phoebe Tickell, talks about her experiences and attitudes to success, life and learning.
Hello! I’m Phoebe, and by formal training, I’m a Natural Scientist. This means that I decided to spend my time at university studying the intricacies, systems and patterns in the world around me. It was difficult to choose one science, as I see all of the world around us as connected, and found beauty and meaning in subjects as different as neuroscience, plant biochemistry and the language of DNA. The life sciences gripped me, as life continues to amaze me, whether at the level of a tiny molecule binding to our DNA, or the big biogeochemical cycles in the ocean. Cracking the code that connects all of these things will never get old.
The moment I decided to study the science of the world around me was during this life-changing trip I managed to get onto, when I was 17. I went to the Amazon rainforest in Peru with a youth charity that organised scientific expeditions for young people. For 5 weeks, we learned to live in harmony with nature in the rainforest, with no contact with the outside world and rudimentary conditions to live in. We learned to survive. I will never forget the nights with the howler monkeys gurgling, a thousand stars overhead, and the splashes of river dolphins not far from our boat at night. Living closely with nature is still important to me, and I think is important for everyone. We spend so much time inside our heads completely submerged in our minuscule lives and problems, and sometimes all it takes is to have the sun shine on your face, or feel the grass between your toes to remember, we are part of something bigger. And we are all going to die! I seek out time with nature during travelling, getting my dose for another round in busy London!
By informal training, I am an artist, an activist, a mentor, and I hope always at whatever scale, a change-maker. Every day is a call to arms to open the eyes of the people around me to what is going on around them, where the world is going, and what we can do. After graduating from Cambridge University in 2013, I decided to spend time ‘unlearning’ some of what had stuck from years in an education system that prepares us to fit into a society which isn’t doing too well at the moment. I travelled for seven months around South East Asia, where I took up Thai boxing, yoga, meditation, commenced an animal-free diet and started speaking to strangers. I’ve maintained most of these habits even today. Even though the oceans, beaches, and forests are no longer part of daily life, we can always make do with what we have! Instead of climbing on a rock face in Vietnam, I settle for the climbing gym situated on the side of a motorway.
Now that I am back, I am spending my 9-to-5 at Imperial College London, where I’m trying to engineer a solution to our world’s energy problem. I play with bacteria and try to get them to make biofuels, so we can stop destroying the Earth in order to sustain our way of living. The other way I help this is through a campaign I recently set up at my university called Fossil Free. We are campaigning for our institution to pull out its investments from coal, oil and gas, as part of a bigger movement to fight the climate chaos that is greeting us at its door. The climate change problem for me is not one that is environmental, it is one of injustice, and at its core, a symptom of the capitalist, consumerist, unaware and ideologically broken way society is running today. 2015 is set to be a huge year for the climate change fight, culminating with huge policy decisions to be made in Paris in 2015. It is an honour to be at the forefront of this fight, and gathering support every day for the movement.
Related to all of the above, the other major thing I do with my life is mentoring and education. I believe young people are the key to future change, and my relationship with my mentees brings me joy on a personal level. I am a sub warden for a halls of residence at Imperial, where I mentor 160 students, imparting the knowledge I wish I that I could have had at 18! We have a lot of fun together, and I learn as much from them as I think they do from me. I am a firm believer that to change the world, we must start with ourselves. This week, I will be teaching them my first yoga class, having already given them a workshop on tie dying – which obviously too is essential knowledge!
An inspiring friend of mine recently got me involved in 225 Academy, a project which is particularly in line with my beliefs and who I am, and in many ways is part of a bigger picture of where I am moving to next. This journey of discovery is proving to be a lot of fun. It is coming together with a lot of mind bubbling and exuberant idea forming, which I seem to attack anyone who listens (or doesn’t) with!
In my spare time, I can be found practising yoga, cooking delicious food, or if it all gets too much, dancing to some great music (often while cooking). I am usually reading, writing, thinking and talking about all of the above however. It feeds my soul, and my spare time.