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'Life is short... I didn't want to keep doing the same job for the rest of my life'

Omagh-born Dawn Wood on quitting her job as a lecturer to focus on poetry, painting and working as a hypnotherapist

By Kerry McKittrick

Dawn Wood spent years educating students on microbiology, but her public persona as a scientist masked a woman who had always been drawn to the more artistic side of life, right back to when she was a little girl growing up in Omagh.

Indeed, the young woman whose career path was set by her father after he spotted a microbiology course in the prospectus for Queen’s University in Belfast and suggested she give it a go, has now quit her job as a lecturer to devote herself to writing, painting and working as a hypnotherapist.

Now 52, Dawn laughs when she recalls how she ended up studying microbiology at university alongside her identical twin sister Beth. “I was equally good at all subjects and back then people were saying that science was the direction to go in and that there were lots of jobs in it. One day my dad was reading the Queen’s prospectus and came across the page for the microbiology course. He said he thought that would be a good thing to study and I wanted to please him, so that’s what I did.”

After completing a Master’s in molecular biology Dawn found herself lecturing at Abertay University in Dundee. She married and had three children, Marianne, Adam and Ali, who are now all in their 20s, before she divorced.

While her job as a lecturer paid the bills, Dawn never quite abandoned her artistic side, continuing to paint.

“My sister Beth and I had always sketched and drew pictures when we were younger, as all children do. Most children eventually stop, of course, but we just kept going,” says Dawn, whose most recent art includes a stunning series of butterflies in cathedrals.

And then, one day, she started to write poetry, too. “I didn’t know much about literature or poetry but I was having a particularly hard year at one point and all of a sudden words started to come out on to a page instead of images,” she says.

“I got hooked on the idea that you craft these words and make something beautiful out of them. I started reading a lot more about poetry and a lot more about the techniques used in creating it.”

Dawn’s introduction to poetry, however, was a slow and self-taught one. She began to read all she could about poetry and how to write it. It was 10 years before she published her first collection, Quarry, in 2008, which was nominated for the prestigious Adleburgh First Collection prize. Since then she has gone on to publish several poetry collections.

She also tried to bridge the gap between her two passions — poetry and science —  through her work for a PhD. Her thesis was titled Making A Third Place: The Science And The Poetry Of Husbandry.

“Part of it was to speak to both scientists and farmers who worked with animals about the relationships that came out of  their work with those animals,” she explains. “I wanted to gather the stories that weren’t getting talked about or being published in scientific research — the interactions between human and animal. The way for me to do that was to write poetry about it.”

One of the subjects of Dawn’s poetry was actually something of a celebrity. Thanks to her scientific background she was friendly with Bill Ritchie, one of the technicians who helped create the cloned sheep, Dolly. Bill provided Dawn with photographs of genetically engineered animals and she created poems based on the photos.

Two years ago, though, Dawn took the decision to call time on her academic career and strike out on a new venture.

“In 2014, I took a voluntary severance package from Abertay University,” she says.

“I think life is short and I want to fill mind with as many experiences as I can. I didn’t want to do the same thing for the rest of my life,” she admits.

Using some of her redundancy cash, she retrained as a hypnotherapist.

“My interest in hypnotherapy seemed to many people to come out of the blue — including me,” explains Dawn. “What I know now is that I have always been interested in the intuitive connection that we can sometimes have with each other and that connection can be subconscious.

“I’ve since realised that a lot of things I did beforehand were relevant to hypnotherapy, such as tapping into the senses and the instincts that human beings share with animals.”

Dawn adds: “A few generations ago, hypnotherapy didn’t fall under the remit of science at all but it’s much more accepted now as so much research has been done into it. We’re now talking openly about things like depression and anxiety when before we were just expected to hide from those things and hope they would go away.

“People now come in for help and if they really want to make a change then hypnotherapy will really work for them.”

And how do her friends in the scientific community react to her newfound career?

She laughs: “Most people tell me it was a very brave thing to do first of all ... and then they start asking me about hypnosis.”

  • Declaration is published by Templar Poetry and costs £10

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