How long have you worked at the Uni? What does your role involve?
I’ve worked at the University since 2005, which makes that 14 years! I’ve just been appointed as Head of Department, since the beginning of August. At this point, I think(!) the role involves line managing 30 academics and overseeing the departmental activities, right from health and safety compliance to student experience. The role is 0.5 FTE, so half my week is spent on that role and the other half is spent on teaching and research. I also have 2 start-ups which are part of my research time. I really enjoy the variety though!
What would you most like to achieve while at the University?
To contribute to enabling our students and staff to achieve their potential. In my roles, I want to give them the environment they need to achieve that. It’s a team effort, so I see it as a bit more of providing a framework. I’d really like to look back on my time as an academic and see that everyone has achieved what they want to achieve – which all sounds a bit cheesy!
Name one thing that makes you feel proud to work at the University of Bath?
It’s talking to alumni who have made a really difference. For example, one of my tutees worked for a company in Kenya in a refugee camp. They designed toilets that were portable and went into the camps, then took them away and processed the waste to make them into blocks for heating. Chemical engineering directly influenced and made a difference in the quality of life for those people. When I was talking to him, I could see how this was really important to them. It’s great to hear what people are doing, and how they have an impact.
In terms of the University, the extra-curricular activities is something else I’m proud of too. It’s not just about what students do on their course, Bath has an awesome Students’ Union and a great set up for students to be able to do various sports, societies and activities. I’d say that’s a hugely valuable opportunity because it gives them that social network and skills they don’t necessarily get from just studying.
What piece of advice would you like to give to a student?
Get really good at being yourself. That uniqueness makes you special and will take you places. It’s about being yourself, finding your own path and putting everything into it. It won’t always be easy, but run with it!
Who was your most influential teacher/educator, and why?
One of my most influential teachers is my mum, she’s a biology teacher in a further education college in South Devon. She’s still working aged 70 and loves it! The other person is Miss Baines, who was our PE teacher in secondary school. I didn’t realise this at the time, but she saw no boundaries in us being women to the sport that we did. So we did everything. It wasn’t until I read these questions that I actually realised how important that was. Basketball was the key sport that I ended up doing at school, but we did football, rugby and cricket which led to me getting really heavily involved in rugby at uni. It was never a thing that we were women and we had to do the traditional female sports. That was a massive influence in terms of what I did going forward. Seeing you could do any sport meant that when I went to uni, I looked at what sports I wanted to do, rather than what sports were typically more female.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Various things! My dad is a pharmacist so at one point I wanted to become a pharmacist or do pharmacology. I actually applied to university to do pharmacology, but changed at the last minute to do chemical engineering. My simple motivation was to be independently financially stable, and to get a good job, but I didn’t know how I wanted to, or could do that. I really wanted to come to Bath, I did my undergrad here, so I flicked through the prospectus to see what job opportunities were available. Chemical engineering had the widest range of really well paid jobs. But it wasn’t until PhD/postdoccing when I thought about becoming an academic. It’s totally the right thing for me, but I didn’t know that as a child.
What’s the one thing you know now that you wish you’d known when you were younger?
When you're older, it takes longer to recover from sport, and it’s harder to keep in shape! I just did not appreciate how much I could do when I was younger. I gave up playing rugby when it got to the point where it took me six days to recover and then I was playing another match on the seventh day. Similarly I didn’t think about what I was eating, it didn’t matter, but not anymore!
What was your first job?
I was a shop assistant in my dad’s pharmacy from when I was about 14 and I did it through uni too. I got my BTech Level 2 in dispensing and learnt how to pack prescriptions very neatly into paper bags. I learnt how to wrap perfume under pressure, do stock rotation, how to put money into a till correctly for banking, and how to count it back to people. It was quite hard though, and having to deal with ill people who were grumpy, or quite embarrassed people, I learnt a lot from that.
If you could start your own dream business, what would it be?
Well that’s the thing, I already have, twice! I’ve got two start-up companies, one of which is called Cellesce. That’s the company that expand organoids for drug discoveries. Organoids are basically mini tumours in this case, and because of their structure they reduce false positives and false negatives in cancer drug discovery. So a cancer drug might target a particular pathway in a cancerous cell, but in current 2-dimensional culture models, you might not actually have that pathway present. So by having organoids that represent nearly all the different cell types in the tumour, you’re likely to have the signalling pathway that the drug will target. As an engineering company, we’ve developed a process to grow organoids without the manually intensive work. It’s still a micro-SME but it’s fairly well-established with 15 people. Cellular Agriculture Ltd is pre-fundraise and that company will eventually commercialise our cultured meat technology. But I don’t want to go full-time in industry! I’m so fortunate to have good people on the business-side which is great.
Where is your favourite holiday destination and why?
I couldn’t think of just one particular place, but the common thing was that they were all places where I could be outside. Ideally amongst nature and not around people as I’m an introvert and need alone time! I don’t even mind the weather is doing, as long as it’s that big open space.
What’s your favourite book or album and why
There are loads of good books that I’ve read, but I just keep coming back to Lord of the Rings. I love the films too, and I’ve also read The Silmarillion which is a sort of prequel that describes the universe the various lands are found in. It may sound crazy but I like that Frodo is really good life role model! He’s this happy-go-lucky person who ends up with so much pressure put on him – save Middle Earth! - and he deals with it with the grit, determination, and kindness. Then there is Gollum, who is the total opposite of him, but they have to work together in the end. It’s a message that it’s a tough world but we can get through that to achieve our purpose.
When are you happiest?
It really is when I’m outside. If I’m going to be more specific, it’s in the autumn sun with my family, my horse, some tea and some cake. Put that all together and that’s a good day!
If you could meet anyone in the world dead or alive who would it be and why?
I found this one really difficult, there’s lots of people that I think would be really cool. I’ve narrowed it down to people I could feasibly meet as they are still alive: Charlize Theron and Jürgen Klopp! Charlize Theron lives her beliefs, acting in and directing films with female leads and has done so consistently at the top of the industry. Jürgen Klopp has created an amazing culture in Liverpool FC without sacrificing performance. I’d love to know how they’ve done it!
Which one superpower would you like to possess?
I would like the ability to regenerate while I’m awake. I need loads of sleep in order to function and I hate that! So if I could not sleep, then that would be really handy.
What would people be surprised to learn about you?
I was one of the first handful of women to be awarded the RFU Level 3 rugby coaching qualification. I’ve also got two pins in my ankle from when I broke my ankle playing rugby at the England trials. While it was the end of any hope of any potential career, but it was also the beginning of my interest in regenerative medicine and tissue engineering. So actually, it was a good thing to happen, in retrospect.
I also don’t like mint or beer, I’ve tried to, but I just don’t!
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