Crunching numbers and crushing goals: meet multi-talented Chemist Frances Wilson

Frances Wilson speaks about her experience as a pioneering Chemist/Quality Coordinator for International Day of Women and Girls in Science

Our People

February 11, 2021


“When presented with new challenges, I choose to take them on, and approach it with a positive and enthusiastic attitude.”


“When presented with new challenges, I choose to take them on, and approach it with a positive and enthusiastic attitude.”

Chemist/Quality Coordinator Frances Wilson is based at our Rutherford oil refinery and is primarily responsible for quality assurance. It’s a complex job that includes verifying the quality of recycled and finished base oil product and managing the lab where the analysis is performed.

When asked what a typical day is like for her, Frances says, “I spend a couple of hours in the lab testing the refinery’s process oil, performing quality testing of final product for customers, analysing waste product for disposal and maintaining the lab equipment. I also prepare quality reports for customers and operational teams.”

“I also assist teams at our Wetherill Park and Narangba refineries and other Hydrocarbons sites when required. My role also includes the management of environmental and operational health and safety requirements and coordinating the testing of oil and waste product by external labs,” explains Frances.

Pictured: Frances leads an active life outside of work with mountain biking being one of her favourite activities

Frances wasn’t always the problem-solving, laboratory steward that she is today. Although Frances had an interest in science and mathematics as a child, she started her career in finance, working in accounting and treasury roles in the coal mining and industrial gases industries. It was only after she completed her first degree as a qualified accountant and her children started school that she had the inspiration and space to follow her passion and build a second career in science.

“My current position at Cleanaway is my first role in the science field and I’m proud to say I’ve been here for three years now. Over the past 25 years I have also been raising a family and 10 years ago decided to opt for a career change and retrained at university as a chemical engineer. I came back to science out of an interest in the environment and sustainable solutions to waste and energy, believing this would provide a sound basis to pursue a career in that field,” says Frances about her journey to her current role.

Cleanaway’s mission to make a sustainable future possible resonated perfectly with Frances – “I enjoy working for a company that is committed to sustainable practices and safety and in a field where there is opportunity to positively impact the environment. Cleanaway has provided me with the opportunity to learn the operations and processes of an oil re-refinery and assist with trouble shooting and process improvement while working with a supportive and hardworking team.”

It’s not lost on Frances that working in science (and waste management) is not typically associated with women. Indeed, the United Nations estimates that only 30% of all female students select science-related fields in higher education.

“Gender stereotyping, male-dominated workspaces, and traditional role modelling all play their part in deterring girls and women from pursuing science-related careers. Women need to feel more confident to participate in the wonderful world of science. I believe more exposure to practical experience and encouragement from educators and role models are needed.”

Frances firmly believes in exposing students to science at an early age and offers this advice, “It starts at home and follows through in the early years of education. Make it compulsory for students to engage in hands-on science and technology projects such as robotics programs. This makes science real and relevant and can spark interest in the field at an early age. Careers advisors need to engage with students in primary school and early high school to get them thinking about what interests them, as opposed to waiting until the final years in senior high school.”

Her number one tip for girls looking to study science or women considering a career change to a science field? Follow your passion.

“If you have that passion you will be able to succeed at whatever you do. If you enjoy the challenge of mathematics and solving problems, seriously consider a career in engineering. I grew up with the view that health sciences were the careers to follow in the science field. If I had asked more questions and researched more deeply what opportunities are out there, I may have made different decisions when I was younger.”

“I’m lucky to have had a chance at reskilling and making a career change into the science field. While I enjoyed achieving academically, it has been more challenging re-entering the workforce. That’s why I feel it’s important to have a good mentor and to work for a company where your skills will be used well.” reflects Frances about her mid-career transition.

Frances is pictured first from left at the OXFAM 100km trailwalk – one of her many endurance achievements

While Frances has plenty to be proud of in her professional life, she says her most treasured achievements have been raising her children and seeing them achieve as teenagers and young adults. Outside of work, Frances enjoys physically pushing herself with outdoor challenges and has even completed the 100km Oxfam Trailwalker in Sydney! Her other endurance activities include mountain bike riding and running.

How she makes it all work can best be summarised by her approach to life, “When presented with new challenges, I choose to take them on, and approach it with a positive and enthusiastic attitude.” she says with a smile and a ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ look of steely determination.

Pictured: Frances always has time for her family

Contact us to learn more about the people who are making a sustainable future possible through a career with Cleanaway.