Meet Dr Richard Thwaites

Published 15 July 2021

Over the next couple of months we're proud to introduce you to a few of our many valued RACI members and their thoughts on being part of the RACI community. 

Meet Dr Richard Thwaites, Honorary FRACI Chem, current VIC Retired Chemists Group Chair, current VIC Branch Committee member since 2013 including Treasurer and Secretary roles, VIC Branch President 2013-2014, 2015 RACI Citation recipient, and RACI member since 1971 (50 years!).  

What does being a member of the RACI mean to you?
I arrived in Melbourne from the UK in September 1970, armed with three chemistry degrees, a job to go to with Albright & Wilson (Australia) Limited, but knowing only about four people in the whole country.

I had joined the (then) Royal Institute of Chemistry and the Chemical Society in the UK (both subsequently merged to form the Royal Society of Chemistry), and while working in London had attended one very memorable lecture at the Society of Chemical Industry (SCI) in Belgrave Square, where the speaker from Australia (an Albright & Wilson executive called David Anthony) described Australia as islands of population surrounded by land (as opposed to somewhere like the West Indies, where the islands of population are surrounded by sea).  

So, as a stranger in a new land it made a lot of sense to join an organisation to get to know more people, and the key chemical organisation relevant to making professional contacts and establishing a network of colleagues, friends and associates was the RACI:  I was admitted as an Associate of the RACI on 8th February 1971.  (So, I have been part of the Institute for over 50 years:  it makes me feel old).  Of course, the fact that my boss (George James) happened to be the Honorary General Treasurer of the Institute at the time acted as a bit of an incentive to join the RACI. 

Back in the 1970s, the RACI had its offices, together with many other scientific societies, in Clunies Ross House in Parkville (long since gone, and now a block of apartments). and an added encouragement to join the Institute was to obtain membership of the Sciences Club (since merged into the Royal Society of Victoria) at minimal cost.  The Sciences Club had a restaurant, bar and lounge, and was a good meeting place to catch up with other like-minded people.  (What a shame it didn’t last!)
Initially, then, the RACI helped me find my feet in Australia and enabled me to become part of the chemistry community here and helped me develop a network and circle of friends.  And that is still largely the case today.

How has the RACI made a difference to you and your career?
After arriving and settling in, I guess I would have gone to RACI sponsored events fairly sporadically.  We moved to Sydney, where a colleague, Pat Donovan, was involved in what was then the RACI NSW Commercial Affairs Group (which I think morphed into the Industrial Chemicals Division) and I participated in a few of their meetings and got to know some of the relevant identities.

Then back in Melbourne, still working in industry, I was invited to become a member of the RACI Qualifications Committee by another colleague from work, Peter Strasser.  I stayed on what became the Qualifications and Accreditation Committee, eventually becoming its chair for several years, and in our assessment of university chemistry degree programs I visited most university campuses across the country.  This was a fascinating and valuable experience and gave me continuing insights into chemistry in the academic sector.  It was also a lot of fun.  I did many visits with people like Des Williams from SA, Roger Read from NSW and Paul Mulvaney from Victoria and set up contacts with the equivalent body in the RSC in the UK.
So although I was employed in industry, I think I was able to make a bit of a contribution to academic chemistry as well and to understand better the problems facing people employed in academia.

On my retirement from full time employment, I decided it was time to give more back to the RACI and became involved in the Victorian Branch Committee, serving as its Vice President, President, Secretary and Treasurer over the years.  I went to as many Group meetings in Victoria as I could to get to know leaders in the State Branch.  I became involved in establishing new Groups such as the FNAC Group (with Adel Youssef), revitalising our interaction with schools such as reinvigorating our titration competition, and went on to participate in other Group activities such as the HS&E and Retirees’ Groups.  

I also became a member of the “Chemistry in Australia” Management Committee and continue to enjoy the magazine. I am also now part of the RACI Mentoring program.
So, while being a member of the RACI probably hasn’t really affected my working career as such, it has given me many opportunities to widen my circle of acquaintances in the profession and contribute in various ways to the Institute.

What would you say is best thing about being a RACI member?
In short, the people I have met, the contacts I have established and the friends I have made.   It’s all about networking, being involved.  The more you contribute, the more you get out.

For young people embarking on a new career in chemistry in Australia, the RACI is the ideal organisation to become established, to get to know people and to be known by people.  The new RACI mentoring initiative is an incredible way of helping younger people assess their options for future careers.

For people in mid-career, it is all about creating and maintaining contacts and networks and finding the many unadvertised opportunities for career advancement.

For people at the end of their careers, it is all about giving back to the organisation as mentees and participants supporting our younger Members.

And above all, the Institute creates a framework to interact with like-minded people who enjoyed studying chemistry and still enjoy the challenges of understanding the science of chemistry.


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