Really excited to be back here to talk engineering!
Dame Alice Harpur School, Bedford; City of Westminster College, London; University of Bradford; University of Leeds
10 GCSES; A levels in Chemistry, Physics and Maths; HNC in Science (Medical Physics and Physiological Measurement); BEng in Medical Engineering; PhD in Medical Engineering
University of Leeds, DePuy, Bedford Hospital
Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering, University of Leeds
I'm a medical engineer with a fascination around feet :)
I live about 12 miles away from Leeds, not too far from the Yorkshire Dales. I live with my husband, Mark, who works in the chemicals industry. We have a pet cat, and the village has a lot of ducks which often take up residence in our garden – much to the annoyance of the cat!
Outside of work, I am quite musical – I play piano reasonably well, guitar quite badly and I got a ukulele for Christmas, so I’ve been learning a few chords. If you’re very unlucky I sing along. Mark is a pretty talented artist, but I generally just make a mess. Being an engineer, I think I prefer order and angular structures – so I tend to make mosaics instead.
I used to be quite sporty – representing GB in archery when I was young – but I’ve been very busy with my job so haven’t done that much lately – but am hoping to re-start next year!
My research is looking at designing better treatment for the ankle – for young and old patients alike!
I am a medical engineer and my research is focussed on the ankle joint – understanding the load and movement that happens at the ankle when we walk and go about our lives, and seeing how this changes when we get an injury, such as an ankle sprain.
Over time, and as we get older, our joints can become stiff and sore, and some people might need a joint replacement. At the moment, ankle replacements are not used very much and don’t always work as well as we’d like – so another area of my research is looking at improving the designs of these to make them work longer. I’m working with a group of researchers to design new tests so that we can ensure they are safe before they are used to treat patients. This picture shows a ‘simulator’ which can make the ankle joint ‘walk’ for days on end – similar to what would happen in a patient
I also teach on our mechanical engineering and product design degrees and supervise some projects. I really enjoy teaching, and particularly working with the students on their projects- I have some amazing students who I know will go on to do great things!
I also like doing our public engagement activities – this can be anything from running a school workshop to science fairs. A little while ago, I did an MP pairing scheme – I got to shadow an MP at the Houses of Parliament to see how government works, and then he came to our labs – which was a lot of fun. He hadn’t done any science or engineering since GCSE so I hope we taught him some new things!
I’m really lucky with my job, I work with so many different people and it’s really rewarding. I know that the research I’m doing might change someones life, and even on days I find difficult, where there might be some problems to solve, that makes everything worthwhile!
My Typical Day: So at the moment it's a bit strange as I'm working from home - but I still talk to a lot of researchers and am doing a lot of work. Thankfully I do some computer modelling of biomechanics - which I'm able to do here. I keep in touch with my students online via chats and emails. When at university - I get in around 0830 and leave around 1730 - I have a 30 minute train journey each way which allows me to wake up/switch off and get reading my latest favourite fiction! Probably spend a bit of time catching up with emails, and then will have some meetings with the researchers in my team. I might go into the laboratory to see how particular tests are going. In term time, I also lecture our undergraduate researchers on biomaterials, biomechanics and something called tribology - which is the science of sliding surfaces. At the moment, I'm also doing something called a 'discipline hop' - which means I spend one or two days a week over at the hospital - shadowing clinics, observing surgery, interviewing patients and talking to surgeons. I'm loving it - it's really helping me work out what is important for my research.
I wouldn’t say I have a typical day – I can be working at the hospital, attending a conference or on the university campus, and then be in the lab, my office or a lecture theatre! But here’s something close I think…
0830: Sitting in my office at university – catching up on email, looking at the latest research, or preparing for a lecture
1000 Meetings – I spend a lot of time in meetings – with my project students or my PhD researchers discussing their work; with my boss – letting him know what I’ve been up to; with a local surgeon – to talk about the current research; in academic meetings – to discuss teaching; research group meetings – to talk about everything we’re doing
1230 – lunch is usually at my desk whilst checking email, or on the way across to the hospital. I do try to get out for a walk or something but in Leeds it’s often raining so I like to stay indoors!
1230 – I’ll spend some time in the laboratory – either checking things are running ok, or setting up something new to test. Most of the work I do with our team is experimental, so I do some of my time in the lab, but I do sometimes make computer models too (although I’m not great at those, so I leave them to my better work colleagues)
1600 – Admin – grant writing, assignment marking, report writing, planning!
I guess the other thing I do a lot of is thinking! Working out how to tackle a problem, thinking about what I’ve just read, how I’m going to explain something to my students. I spend a lot of time thinking. Usually I head home around 1730 – although sometimes my days can start at 0730 and not finish until after 7pm!
What I'd do with the money
Develop a new school workshop activity to show engineers aren’t all about engines!
People seem quite surprised when I say I’m an engineer. Not only that I’m chartered and a member of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. It’s not always obvious that engineers do different things and aren’t just about engines!
At the moment, we run a workshop for schools called ‘Great Bones’. It’s aimed at 11-14 year olds, and we talk about how and why bones break, and how they heal – then it’s over to the students to repair a broken bone with the kit of materials we provide – they become the bioengineers! My research group has been running this for nearly 10 years now, so I think it’s about time we did something new. Some of the work I’m doing is looking at tissue engineering and I’d really like to develop a similar workshop that explains how engineering can be used to help the body repair itself.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Enthusiastic, organised, happy
What's the best thing you've done in your career?
I’ve done some research on a knee replacement that is now being used for patients around the world!
What or who inspired you to follow your career?
My parents - I've been very lucky that they've been very supportive since I was young
What was your favourite subject at school?
What did you want to be after you left school?
Environmental Scientist or Zoologist
Were you ever in trouble at school?
Not really, but I was a bit lazy!
If you weren't doing this job, what would you choose instead?
Tricky, before I was an engineer I was a cardiac technician and I loved spending time with patients - so that I think!
Who is your favourite singer or band?
What's your favourite food?
Risotto - I make a great seafood and fennel one!
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Sang in a 600 voice choir at the Royal Albert Hall when I was about 14 - it was AMAZING!
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
Oh this is tricky - I'll have to come back to it.
Tell us a joke.
What kind of fish is made of two sodium atoms? 2Na (ok, my jokes are BAD!)