She's an Engineer- Helena Dodd

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Route into engineering

Years ago, at school, I thought I wanted to be a medical doctor. However, after extensive work experience and shadowing while I was in Sixth Form, I realised that I found the personal and emotional aspects of being a doctor too difficult, and decided that I wanted to help further the treatment of diseases from a research perspective instead.

As such, I chose to pursue an undergraduate degree in Chemistry, which gave me a really good understanding on how disease is treated on a molecular level. My first master's project involved designing and synthesising novel small molecules for the treatment of Tuberculosis. I loved it, but realised that I wanted to do more interdisciplinary work and be involved in the overall engineering, testing and development of a treatment, as opposed to just one small stage of the process. Because of this, I realised that a PhD would be a great fit for me! I signed up for a PhD through a Centre for Doctoral Training, which is a slightly longer programme that provides more interdisciplinary training, and have now officially transitioned from pure Chemistry to more applied Biomaterials Engineering.

An important thing I've learnt from my journey is that there is room for everyone in engineering! It is always possible to transition in some way between Science and Engineering, because there is a lot that both disciplines have to offer each other.

Job description

As a PhD Student (Research Student), I work in a research lab doing cool STEM experiments. I am developing new bioengineered nanoparticles and then testing to see if they can be used for cancer immunotherapy applications.

Every day is different! My research is interdisciplinary, so I am split between three university departments and two research labs. Most days I am working in the lab, but other days I analyse the results that I have collected or plan future experiments. I also have regular meetings with my supervisors to update them on my results and have weekly lab meetings with other members of my lab, so that we can all discuss our projects together.

Some weeks I also help out with teaching undergraduates or attend conferences, to network with other researchers beyond my university. I also volunteer with various charities, such as WES and Engineering UK, and am also the president of Imperial's women in STEM association, so I have various meetings a week for that as well.

Be proud of everything you have achieved, and enjoy the journey! It's not about getting things perfectly right all the time; the biggest achievement is learning from your experiences along the way.

My favourite hobbies involve volunteering in various ways to support and encourage future generations to pursue STEM, and to try to play my part in hopefully making STEM a more diverse and accessible place! I am very aware that I have had many privileges throughout my career so far that many children and young people do not have, and I think it is important for me to use my positions of privilege to provide others with some of the support they are missing. Some examples of volunteering and outreach that I do include being a Head Judge at the Big Bang Science Fair, a STEM Ambassador, running workshops in schools with children from disadvantaged backgrounds, mentoring Sixth Former students and university Undergraduates, and founding and organising various diversity conferences to highlight the contributions of minorities within STEM.

I have also chaired women in STEM networks at both Imperial College and the University of Birmingham for the past five years, and of course volunteer with WES! Outside of these interests, I love music, particularly playing the piano and singing, which I have both done since I was five. One of my resolutions for 2021 is to learn the ukelele! I also love reading, baking and cooking, going on long walks, doing yoga and travelling to new places.

I am the current Chair of the University Groups Board. I joined WES last year through being president of Imperial College's WES affiliated student group, and joined the UGB as a member, to meet and share best practice with other university groups. It was such an enjoyable experience that I stayed on for a 2nd year, this time as Chair!

I think academic research has traditionally been seen as more science focussed, and most engineering research has taken place in industry. However, I think this is now rapidly changing, which is very exciting! Globalisation and technological advances have mean that there is now increased collaboration between academia and industry, and also between various fields of STEM. I think within the next 25-50 years, more and more research will shift to being interdisciplinary, which will result in better PhD training for young engineers. I'm also hoping that these changes make research more accessible to all, and that the academic environment becomes more diverse and inclusive.

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