Do what you’re interested in and don’t be afraid to change direction
What sparked your interest in your subject – what and who inspires you?
I’ve always loved science. I had a great Chemistry teacher at school, but I’d say it’s my Dad who really inspired me – he did Physics at university and loved talking about science with us as kids. I did a PhD and several years of postdoc work in lab-based science before I “fell” into working with healthcare data, and now I love it!
What did you do at university?
For undergraduate I studied Natural Sciences, specialising in molecular biology towards the end. I had a great time at university and threw myself into lots of sports and social activities alongside the work – to be honest, I think the skills I learned from organising events and being part of a team were just as useful as the science.
Tell us about your journey to your current role
It’s been rather a long and winding journey! After undergrad I spent a year teaching English in Nanjing, China. When I got home, I wasn’t sure what to do but ended up doing a BHF-funded PhD in Cardiovascular Science (studying cardiac arrhythmias). My husband and I then moved to Michigan, USA, to do postdoc research. After six years out there, he got a job in Edinburgh. By then I’d decided that I didn’t want to be a PI -principle investigator who runs their own lab- so I took some time off to get settled into our new city with our then-two-year-old twins. I’m not the best at being a stay-at-home mum (and have much respect for those who can do it!) so after a few months started looking for job opportunities. I emailed my now boss at the University of Edinburgh as his research interests were aligned with the research I’d done previously. He had some really interesting projects around digital innovation and an opportunity for me to work two days per week for six months. It was a bit like a six-month interview! Luckily we got on well, I really enjoyed the projects, and he was able to secure further funding for me. I moved into working on some big data-driven projects and started an MSc in data science to help me transition into this new area. The projects I’m currently working on are really exciting and rely heavily on teamwork to deliver them. I really enjoy this kind of teamwork and together we have the opportunity to make a hugely positive impact on patient care, which is very motivating!
Tell us about a typical day of work for you?
There isn’t really a typical day – it just depends what needs to be done at that time to move our projects forward. I do spend a lot of time emailing people, though – too much time! At the moment I’m trying to map data flows in one of our team’s big clinical trials so that our collaborators (experts in various types of data science) can work with and interpret the data.
Is there anything you wish you could do more of?
I do love coding in R, so I’d like to do more of that. I spend most of my time getting data ready and accessible by others, but I should get the chance to actually do some work on it myself soon.
Tell us about the best opportunity you’ve had in your career?
My best opportunity was probably my current boss taking a chance on hiring me despite me not having any prior experience with clinical research. I’ve learnt a huge amount about it since then!
What makes you proud?
I had a really difficult time in one of my postdoc labs, so I’m proud that I came through that and am forging this new career in a completely different field.
Do you find your work supportive of women?
Yes. We do still have some work to do on gender balance in senior roles and amongst the clinical cardiologists, though.
What would you recommend to young women and girls who’d like to be in your position.
Do what you’re interested in and don’t be afraid to change direction. Don’t necessarily wait for a job to be advertised – if there is someone you’d like to work with, just contact them to say you’re keen and ask to meet for a chat.
Are you confident that gender representation in your subject area will improve?
I’m confident it will happen eventually, but there are deep-rooted biases in all of us that will be difficult to overcome. It’s definitely something I think about, which is why I helped set up the One HealthTech Edinburgh hub.
What do you tend to do after the working day is over?
It’s straight into the evening routine for our kids – we’re very busy with six-year-old twins and an 11-month-old! Once they’re in bed and the mess has been cleared up, I’ll usually do another couple of hours of “life admin” or work. It’s not easy, but I love my job and I have a huge amount of flexibility so I’m happy to put in extra hours when needed.
What do you look forward to? Are you a believer in “5-year plans”?
I like planning, but at the moment with three young kids I can only manage to plan a few weeks ahead – and when it’s really busy I plan day-by-day! I’m enjoying what I’m doing and feel like I’m moving in a good direction so that’s enough right now.
Tell us a fun fact about yourself.
I own 4.5 bicycles. My favourite one is my folding Brompton -an engineering masterpiece! The .5 is a unicycle – I can’t ride it but it’s really fun trying!