Category Archives: Interviews

International Women in Engineering Day | #INWED18

Over the past few years there has been a global push to engage more women and girls in science and engineering in order to reduce the gender imbalance within the STEM industries. However, more still needs to be done to encourage and support women as they enter a STEM career and to highlight the valuable contributions women make to the field.

To celebrate International Women in Engineering Day, we spoke to some of the wonderful engineers at Newcastle University to find out why they decided to pursue a career in engineering…

Inspired to pursue a career in Engineering? Find out more about our undergraduate Engineering degrees here.

Meet the Expert | Dr Richard Bevan, From Penguins to Puffins

Today, we talk to Newcastle University’s Dr Richard Bevan about where his research has taken him throughout his career. In order to better understand the overall ecology of animals, Richard Bevan’s research focuses on the way that animals interact with their environment both physiologically and behaviourally. Richard’s specific areas of study include: the physiology, ecology and behaviour of aquatic animals; foraging behaviour of seabirds; animal conservation.

   

Describing how his career began, Dr Bevan says: “Born and bred in the valleys of South Wales, I ventured to the north of the country to take Zoology at Bangor University. After completing my BSc, I spent a couple of years in Denmark working on an animation film, “Valhalla”, before returning to the UK to start my PhD on the physiology of swimming and diving in aquatic vertebrates (Tufted Ducks, Barnacle Geese and Green Turtles) at Birmingham University.”

Luckily, Richard finished his PhD at the right time to take up a post-doctoral position studying the energetics  of the higher Antarctic predators. This involved him spending three summer seasons on Bird Island, South Georgia on a joint project between Birmingham University and the British Antarctic Survey. This small island, just 4.9km long and 800m wide, is home to hundreds of thousands of birds – making it one of the world’s richest wildlife sites. Among it’s diverse population of wildlife, it is home to some 50,000 breeding pairs of penguins and 65,000 pairs of fur seals. Richard spent his time on the island studying Gentoo Penguins, Black-browed Albatrosses and Antarctic Fur Seals.

Richard continued to study penguins and other seabirds, but moved on from Bird Island: “This was followed by a project studying King Penguins on Possession Island, Crozet Archipelago; a joint project between Birmingham University and CNRS. I then spent a couple of years as a Principal Scientific Officer with the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust in Slimbridge where I was in charge of the their fish-eating birds research (mainly inland Cormorants and Goosanders).”

“In 1998, I moved to Newcastle to take up my position as lecturer in what was the School of Biology, Newcastle University. It was early in the new millennium that I first became involved with the Farne Islands and I have been conducting research on the birds (Puffins, Shags, Arctic Terns, Kittiwakes etc.) and grey seals since then.”

Much closer to home than the likes of Bird Island or Possession Island, the Farne Islands are just a few miles from the coast of Northumberland. Touted by David Attenborough as one of his favourite places in the UK to see “magificent nature”, the Farne Islands are rich in wildlife. The Farne Islands are one of the best places to see and study puffins, now a red listed bird, meaning that there has been a severe decline in the population of puffins over the last 25 years. Some of Richard’s research on the Farne Islands has involved attaching hi-tech tags, which include GPS, geo-locators and time/depth recorders, to puffins. These tags provided a detailed record of the bird’s locations and habits to help understand why the puffin population is in decline.

A lecturer for many modules within Newcastle’s School of Natural and Environmental Sciences, Dr Richard Bevan includes a trip to the Farne Islands in his “Introduction to Marine Vertebrates” module, which provides students with a first hand encounter of a range of seabirds and seals, allowing them to make observations of marine vertebrates in their natural environment. If you’re interested in finding out more about the biology and zoology courses that Newcastle University offer, you can do so here.

Marie Curie’s legacy lives on at Newcastle University

Marie Curie in her laboratory
Marie Curie in her laboratory

Today we are celebrating the 150th anniversary of the birth of Marie Sklodowska-Curie. She was a remarkable scientist whose ground-breaking research into radioactivity led to the development of cancer treatment with radioactive isotopes, and mobile X-ray units for field hospitals during World War 1.

Dr Curie was the first woman to win a Nobel prize, and the first person ever to win it twice and in two different sciences (Chemistry and Physics).

The Marie Sklodowska-Curie Fellowship

The European Commission set up the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Research Fellowship Programme which provides two years of funding for researchers across the world and promotes interdisciplinary research and collaboration.

We talked to Dr Ruth Rodriguez-Barrueco, one of the recipients of a Fellowship, about her research in Newcastle University’s Institute of Genetic Medicine:

Dr Rodriguez-Barrueco, Marie Sklodowska-Curie Fellow, Newcastle University
Dr Rodriguez-Barrueco, Marie Sklodowska-Curie Fellow, Newcastle University

What does your research involve?

Ruth’s research is looking at finding a new therapeutic approach to certain aggressive types of breast cancer. She is targeting a small population of cells found within tumours that have stem cell characteristics and is hoping to describe the vulnerabilities of these cells so that new drugs can be designed that target them specifically.

Ruth is using new technologies called CRISPR libraries which allow the elimination of different pieces of DNA to identify which genes are essential for the cancer cells to survive.

All of her findings will then be published in international journals and the CRISPR library will be deposited in a public repository which is available for other cancer researchers to access.

What brought you to Newcastle University?

Ruth is originally from Barcelona and has spent time working in Spain as well as at Columbia University in New York. She explained that she enjoyed the collaborative aspect of working at Newcastle University. The proximity of the Royal Victoria Infirmary and the Northern Institute for Cancer Research also means that she is able to work on real patient tissue samples to validate her findings. She went on to praise the supportive environment within the University and her colleagues.

What do you hope your research will lead to?

Ruth hopes that the  long term result of her research will be the development of new drugs that will target these currently incurable breast cancers. She would also like to see the clinical trials happening at Newcastle as there is a good structure and resources available that would allow this to happen in a short time frame.

What has the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Fellowship allowed you to do?

Ruth explained that the Fellowship has allowed her to establish the methods and collaborations which will lead to a bigger research project. She started her research in March of this year and has already started to see the benefits of the Fellowship.

 

“One never notices what has been done; one can only see what remains to be done”

Marie Sklodowska-Curie

Interview with a Scientist: Justin, Biologist

This week we interviewed Justin, a biologist who has recently started working on a PhD looking into the microbes in woodland soils and how they relate to essential processes such as decomposition.phd

Why is your research important?

There is a lack of current understanding of woodland soils, which are really important and we rely on them a lot so we need to have a strong understanding of them to be able to care for them effectively.

What did you do before starting your PhD?

I had a year out before starting my undergraduate degree in Biology at the University of York. During this year I travelled to America and volunteered at a bat hospital. During my first degree I had a placement year working a Kew Gardens. I helped on the millennium seed bank project which aims to conserve rare seeds from plants that are at risk of extinction.

I stayed at the University of York  for my Masters Degree, but also went to Uganda in this year to study the distribution of tropical birds for my masters research. I’ve just started my first year of my PhD.

How did you decide on PhD?

I have always been interested in networks in nature, like food webs, for example. It happened that my PhD supervisor is an expert in this area so it was a great chance for me to learn more about networks.

justinWhat advice would you give to someone wanting to study at university?

Do and see as much as you can, take part in lots of different actvities and volunteer. Have a broad range of interests, not only does it look good on a CV or personal statement but it can help you discover what you want to do and it’ll help you make lots of friends once you get to uni.

What was your favourite part of university?

Meeting new people, trying new things. I tried out things like caving and scuba diving while I was at uni – things that I wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise.

Whats the best thing about being a PhD student?

Freedom learn about the things that I find interesting.

What do you plan to do in the future?

Continue to investigate how we can understand complex links between species.

Has university helped you get where you want to be?

Definitely – uni is where I want to be.

interview-justin

Meet the Engineers

Recently we hosted the Engineering Education Scheme at Newcastle. Year 12 students from the local area worked with industry to come up with solutions to real life engineering problems. We spoke to some of the engineers who helped on these projects to see what it’s like to be an engineer.

BAE Systems

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Where and what did you study at university?

Naomi studied a Masters in Chemistry at Heriot Watt University.

Martin studied Aerospace Engineering at Bath University.

Why did you choose to study engineering? 

Martin enjoyed studying Maths, Further Maths and Physics at A-Level, so decided to do engineering as it involves them all.

What do you do at your job?

Naomi is a product safety engineer. She looks at all the different types of engineering in submarines such as ventilation and the electricity and makes sure that they all mix well. She is responsible for putting processes in place to make sure that if something happens it doesn’t escalate.

Martin is a systems Engineer and has to make sure things work and integrate engineering systems.

What is the best thing you have done as an engineer?

Naomi’s favorite thing was working on Conning tower flooding (where the doors of the submarine are). If all the hatches are opened at the top of the submarine, when its at the surface it could flood. She looked at how much water a submarine could take on using models on a computer, it was really successful as it meant they stopped a big redesign of submarines.

Martin enjoys providing support for boats that are currently out on the sea. The project gave him a chance to collaborate with lots of different departments and they solved a big problem of one boat’s secondary motor  which kept turning itself on and off by mistake.

Do you have any advice for students thinking about studying engineering?

Their advice is to have confidence in what you do and pick something you enjoy.

Pearson Engineering

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Rosie is a graduate engineer for Pearson Engineering, who’s job involves looking at mine clearance vehicles, some of which can defuse bombs by lifting them in the air.

Where/what did you study at university?

Undergraduate in Chemistry and a Masters in Mechanical Engineering at Newcastle University.

Why did you choose to study engineering?

Rosie initially became a primary school teacher after her undergraduate degree in chemistry but missed being challenged intellectually so decided to become an engineer.

What is the best thing you have done as an engineer?

Rosie has really enjoyed working with the students at EES, as she likes working with young people.

GE Oil and Gas

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Joshua and Charlie are both in their second year of studying Mechanical Engineering at Newcastle University. They work as interns at GE Oil and Gas alongside their studies.

Why did you choose to study engineering?types-of-engineering

Joshua always liked physics and did some work experience in engineering when he was at school that he really enjoyed. He decided to go to university rather than be an apprentice as you get more hands on experience.

Charlie enjoyed studying maths and physics at school and wanted to apply it in a practical way.

What do you do at your job?

Both of them are interns but have the opportunities to do lots of different jobs.

Joshua is currently looking at the clamps, fixtures and fittings for pipes. This is really important for transporting things such as gas and oil. He carries out analysis and design using computer programmes and lots of maths.

Charlie is also working on pipes. Lots of what she does is communicating with customers to design pipes and talk about things such as price too, showing there is lots more to engineering than just being an engineer.

What is the best thing you have done as an engineer?

Joshua has really enjoyed doing an internship as its allowed him to link the real world with what he is doing at university.

Charlie had been working as a STEM ambassador to encourage girls into engineering. She wants everyone to know that engineering is much more than just fixing things and anyone can be an engineer.

Do you have any advice for students thinking about studying engineering?

Joshua’s advice is try and do some work experience, but be prepared to work hard.

Charlie says that you shouldn’t be put off by what you think engineering is, try and find out more about it as it spans many areas.

 

 

Interview with a Scientist: Kirsty, Marine Ecologist

We recently interviewed Kirsty, a 2nd year PhD student at Newcastle University. Kirsty has been studying European lobsters and their movements between habitats. She uses statistical models to understand how environmental conditions influence the timing and pattern of lobster movements.

What impact does your research have?phd

It can help us understand the impact of movement patterns on the number of lobsters that we can catch so that we don’t catch too many and they are sustainably managed. Sustainable management ensures that there are enough lobsters for the future, benefiting not only the environment, but also the fishing industry.

What did you do before your PhD?

I studied Zoology at Glasgow University then did a Masters in Forest Ecology at Edinburgh University. Since then I have worked in various Ecology related roles including being a Park Ranger, working in Wildlife Management and assisting research on seabirds and marine renewables.

Why did you chose to do a PhD rather than get a job?

I had worked as a research assistant before and really enjoyed it, I knew I wanted to do more research. By doing a PhD I got to choose the area and lead the research. It’s a great opportunity to devote your time to just one small area of interest and learn some advanced skills. I hope it will help me improve my career and that I will be able to get better research jobs in the future.

How did you decide on your PhD?

I chose the topic because I’m interested in spatial studies. Understanding why animals choose a particular area is really important in making decisions about species conservation and I thought this project would give me the chance to develop lots of transferable skills.

kirtsyWhat advice would you have for someone wanting to study Biology or Zoology at university?

Go to open days and talk to as many people as possible, make sure it’s the right course for you! Speak to people working in the field if you have the chance and get some experience, the RSPB are a good organisation to volunteer for.

What is the best part about being a PhD student and going to university in general?

Meeting different people who are interested in the same things as you and developing your own identity.

What do you plan to do after completing your PhD? 

Id like to stay in academia and keep doing research on spatial ecology.

Has university help you get where you want to be?

Yes, I have learned lots of different skill sets and developed more resilience and motivation.

 

interview-kirsty