The first thing anyone spots in Science Lab Nine, in the top east corner of the Senior School building, are the enormous brown stick insects on the windowsills. Whether it is their presence or the long climb up the stairs to get to the room, I find there to be something remote, peaceful and alternative about the setting for my interview with Dr Noble, as if I’ve trudged across the Hogwarts grounds to Mrs Trelawney’s Office.
Teacher of Biology and Chemistry, Ruth Noble, is friendly and chatty, and immediately sets the tone for our conversation by insisting she does not know why she’s necessarily been selected to be interviewed. “I’m happy to do it but you’ll have to speak to the others as well you know,” she says.
I quickly learn that Mrs Noble’s career trajectory, which led her to this point, as a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) award-winning educator, was by no means straightforward.
“I originally studied dentistry at the Royal Dental Hospital in London before working as a dentist in the army, in the health service and in many places abroad for over 20 years. I worked in Germany for seven years. I was in Berlin when the wall came down.”
“After I got married, I left the army and came back to England. I then did a business degree and moved into health service management.” She went on to manage the Oxford Heart Centre before being headhunted by Adenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge.
But her globetrotting, multi-facetted career, which has seen her live in London, Germany, Luxembourg and Malta, needed to adopt a slower pace when she had children. “I was working in Adenbrooke’s and it didn’t work too well having small children with the schedule of the hospital,” she says. “My move here was motivated by the idea of being in a lovely part of the world and I’d been working in dental education, so I knew I wanted to move more into education.”
Dr Noble’s own children attended Framlingham College and have gone on to develop impressive fledgling careers. “My boys have done fantastically well. My oldest boy has a first-class masters in maths and works for PWC in their cyber-security department. My younger boy studied economics and is now at Sandhurst training to be an army officer.
“They’re both very different. I think Framlingham College is exceptional at finding what each child wants or that the people here are able to find the focus for each child. Both my children have been able to find their own paths.”
Dr Noble is also the main lead at the senior school for students applying to study medicine, dentistry or professions allied to medicine, at university. “We always have students applying to study Medicine at university and we have an extremely good success rate,” she says.
It’s not an unreasonable assumption to make, that spending years tutoring different children on the same topics might dampen her personal enthusiasm for the subjects. But it’s clear that inspiring pupils to take up scientific careers has only intensified her own passion for biology and scientific development.
“I’m really into molecular biology. It’s so interesting,” she says. “For instance, did you know that our genetics are less than 0.1% different from each other’s. That 0.1% makes all the difference.
“I do a lot outside of class,” she continues. “I managed to make links to the Sanger Centre in Cambridge, which is the UK genome mapping centre and I did a summer placement there. It’s an amazing place. It’s like one of those incredible science fiction films. It’s got green space and glass meeting rooms that hang from the ceiling.
“And the work they’re doing there is incredible. And they’re all so young. In my placement I was working and really trying my hardest to keep up with this young PHD student. She lost me within about five minutes. She has managed to take differentiated cells and engineer them to return them to stem cells, which theoretically means we could live forever. Because every time something goes wrong in the body, you could just grow a replacement from the patient’s own cells. It was a truly inspiring place to be.”
After an hour of fascinating conversation which has taken us through the worlds of medicine, molecular science and historic world events, it’s clear to me that Mrs Noble is about as far removed from J K Rowling’s cooky Mrs Trelawney character as is imaginable. Instead, she personifies the feeling of unerring determination and passion for encouraging young people’s individuality which seems to permeate the halls of Framlingham College.
“Whenever you get a new class,” she continues. “There is that settling in period and you get people saying, ‘I’m rubbish at biology or chemistry’. And by the time they get to the end of year 11, I want them to realise they can do it and even that it’s fun. It can take a long time to build their confidence, but I just help them to understand their own capabilities and achieve to the best of their ability.”
Before leaving Science Lab Nine, I feel I have to address the elephant in the room and question the exotic animals actually in the room, scratching against the glass directly behind me. “Stick insects are special in that they are able to fertilise their own eggs. They don’t require males. But that’s not why I’ve got them,” she smiles. “It’s really because the kids love them mostly, and the ones who don’t, sit on the other side of the room!”
Dr Noble concludes our conversation by telling me that she gets great fulfilment from promoting science and technology in schools and that her STEM award for teaching was the icing on the cake. It is her ability to succeed in a variety of roles which satisfies her most. She says: “I’m proud of being able to be able to get on and make a career in the fields I’ve chosen. She attributes her ‘can do’ attitude to her Mum who instilled ‘Always say yes, as you can do it.’” A resonating sentiment which has undoubtedly driven Dr Noble’s extraordinary scientific career.
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