Meet the ICATS student: Holly King
ICATS student Holly King describes her experiences studying and researching for the Diploma.
'Overall the whole experience of doing the [ICATS] Diploma was amazing and I wouldn't change it for the world.'
I never knew the world of perfumery existed until five years ago when I had just completed my degree in forensic science, initially looking for a job in that area, but was unsuccessful. However, I then started to look for jobs in any chemistry-based company and accepted a job working as a perfumery lab technician at a fragrance house called Seven Scent Limited (PZ Cussons). PZ Cussons manufacture personal wash products for brands like Carex (which you probably would have used a lot of through the pandemic), Imperial Leather, Original Source, and many others. After about 1 ½ years of compounding fragrances and smelling raw materials daily, I realised that I had really found an interest in many aspects of perfumery and would like to pursue a career in this industry. I specifically had an interest in fragrance evaluation, so I started training with my manager who is a senior fragrance evaluator. My job became much more exciting as time went on, as I started to understand more about how to describe fragrances, how to interpret fragrance briefs, how to conduct sensory fragrance panels and most importantly building my olfactive knowledge of products around the world.
In March 2017 I was given the opportunity to attend the British Society of Perfumers workshop weekend at Hotel Football, Old Trafford in Manchester. I got the chance to work on a fragrance brief, with the assistance of a fragrance evaluator, for the interpreting the brief and a perfumer to help with the creation aspect. In this moment I realised my passion for fragrance and I knew I wanted to continue my journey in perfumery. The workshop weekend was an amazing experience for me, still learning and finding my feet. I met many other people in the industry, which gave me an insight into how big the industry is and all the paths of perfumery that I could pursue in the future. After attending this, I was made aware of the ICATS/ IFEAT course and how well recognised it is in the perfumery industry. I then requested to study the course as I believed it would give me the perfect stepping stones to enhance my knowledge of fragrance, all while still doing my full-time job.
As I started the ICATS course I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into; it was a lot more difficult than I originally thought it would be. However, once I finished the first module I really got into a routine. I booked specific time in my calendar to study, mainly Friday afternoons as this was time I could stay after work undisturbed and focus on the course. Working in a fragrance house helped me a lot with understanding certain modules and I could apply many of the activities to my daily job role. The fact that perfumers and evaluators were available to speak to for advice and help with my diploma was a huge relief. As they have so much experience in the industry, they could give me different perspectives on how to train my nose and how to recognise certain notes and raw materials. For example, there is material called Nonadienal which has a very green, fatty, cucumber scent. I don’t particularly like the smell of this material, as I perceive it to smell very fatty and dirty, I described it as ‘a dirty cucumber that has been stomped in the mud’. Even though this description is not how it should be described, it really helped me remember the material. In realising what types of smells I didn’t like I always noticed what types of smells I loved! Musk is one of my favourites as I think it can give a fragrance a comforting feel and it makes me feel warm inside.
When the Covid-19 pandemic hit the UK in March 2020, I was three quarters of the way through my Diploma and for a few months I wasn’t as engaged and didn’t always study when I planned to. However, other things became a priority like my mental wellbeing and work became a lot more demanding, as a few of us in the team at work had to cover for staff that were off due to isolating and being vulnerable, etc. so, when I did arrive home after work, I was so tired I felt like my brain was not in the right mind to work on my diploma. May came around very quickly and I managed to get back on track with my studies and powered through. Some days I got to work from home, so I managed to get a lot of my research and reading done then. For me the most difficult part of the Diploma was module 13 (dissertation), as this piece of work was the most important and I wanted to show how much knowledge I had gained in the past two years I had been studying. But also apply some of the experience I gained from my job role at PZ Cussons.
Consequently, I thought it would be very relevant to research hand sanitizers and explore what consumers want from a hand hygiene product. From the fragrance (or not) to the packaging itself and the whole sensory experience of the product. Initially I did want to approach consumers in the street, however in the situation at the time, it was not feasible or safe. Thus, I decided to use PZ Cussons employees and two other fragrance houses to assist with the collection of questionnaire data to support my research. It took me two months to collate and analyse 199 sets of data, which was a nightmare. It was such a relief when it was done. I think I must now be an expert on using Microsoft Excel!
I was finally coming to the end of my dissertation in May/June 2021 and colleagues and friends helped me proofread my work for a month and I then submitted the 12,000 word piece of work in July. I felt so relieved when I pressed send on my email, my hand was shaking at the time. I think I just was so scared of submitting the final piece of work after such a long time of studying the Diploma. I hoped that I had done enough to make my tutor (Dr Tony Curtis) proud and also the rest of my team at work who had helped me along the way.
Overall, the whole experience doing the Diploma was amazing, and I wouldn’t change it for the world. I am just now so glad I have completed it and I am getting closer and closer to becoming a fragrance evaluator.