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Women in STEM

Period: 8-14 March 2021

Did you know that it is 100th Anniversary of International Women’s Day on Monday 8 March?

It is a day where we celebrate the achievements of women. In Dundee, we mark this day with Dundee Women’s Festival that runs during the first two weeks of March so we can recognise women’s rights, their qualities and their achievements.

This week, we will focus on women in STEM from the University of Dundee who work in many different areas of STEM from biology to engineering and forensics to medicine. Through a range of fun activities, you will get learn about their jobs and what they do.

As an added extra, you will learn about their careers and the different job opportunities in STEM.

Once you have finish reading please also read our other 'Women in STEM' content.

Women in STEM (Activities) Women in STEM (SHARE)

Amy McIntosh in the Chemistry Lab (Women In STEM)
Amy McIntosh In The Chemistry Lab

Sections


Activities

Amy McIntosh

Job Title: Medicinal Chemist, Drug Discovery Unit, School of Life Sciences.
Area of Science: Chemistry.

Introduce yourself - who are you and what is your job?

Hi, my name is Amy and I’m a medicinal chemist working at the University of Dundee. A chemist is someone who mixes chemicals to make new things and a medicinal chemist is doing the same, but we want the new things to become medicines! My job is to be in a lab using different types of tiny building blocks called atoms which are joined together to make bigger things called molecules. For example, a carbon atom and two oxygen atoms joined together makes carbon dioxide, CO2, which is a gas which makes fizzy drinks fizzy! Medicines are just big molecules with lots of different atoms.

What do you research, why and how does this help people?

I am currently working on a project looking to make a medicine for Alzheimer’s disease. This is a progressive brain disorder (it affects the brain and gets worse with time) that destroys memory and thinking skills where eventually you are unable to do simple things such as get dressed in the morning. It is the 6th leading causes death in the US. Over 5 million people have Alzheimer’s in the US and 850,000 in the UK. This is a serious disease and we hope to find a medicine which can cure it and save lives!

Tell us about your career journey so far

My career journey so far hasn’t been very long as I’ve only just started out! At school, science was always my favourite subject and I went onto university to study a Chemistry degree. I then did a one-year master’s degree in research and loved being in the lab researching so I wanted a future career working in a lab. At this point I had the choice to either go and do another 3 years studying a PhD to become a Doctor of Chemistry or to go and work in industry, getting a job in a company making medicines. I decided to go and work in industry straight away to see if I liked it with the potential to go back and do a PhD rather than do a PhD to work in industry and decided I hated it! As it turns out, I don’t need a PhD for my chosen career, but lots of people have them so there are lots of options to get into it. I have now worked in my job for 1.5 years and I really enjoy what I do.

What subjects/qualifications are useful in your role?

I grew up in England so my qualifications will be slightly different from the Scottish ones, but you will need to choose science subjects (Maths, Chemistry, Biology or Physics) for Highers and Advanced Highers (in England these are called A levels!) to then do a degree in Chemistry or a chemistry related degree such as biochemistry or drug discovery degree. It’s not essential to have a masters but can be helpful having a year’s research experience before starting the job. Likewise, having a PhD isn’t essential but those extra years of research experience will help you start higher up the career ladder.

Amy McIntosh (Women In STEM)
Amy McIntosh Medicinal Chemist, Drug Discovery Unit, School of Life Sciences, Dundee University.
Amy McIntosh in the Chemistry Lab (Women In STEM)
Amy McIntosh In The Chemistry Lab.
Making Molecules
Making Molecules Activities

Prof. Annalu Waller

Job Title: Professor and Head of Computing, School of Science and Engineering, University of Dundee.
Research Area: Computer Sciences (Assistive Technology).
Prof. Annalu Waller - Women In STEM

My name is Annalu Waller, and I am a Professor of Computing. I have three different roles. I teach courses in human centred computing, I undertake research and I am also the Head of Computing at Dundee University. My research focuses on helping people with severe disabilities to talk. I work with disabled people to develop software for people who cannot use their own speech. It is very slow and exhausting to type everything you want to say. My research aims to help people to communicate faster by designing systems which are easier to use. I love what I do, helping to give people a voice. It's a great privilege. No day is the same, I might be working with a group of volunteers, I might be teaching or I might be helping students with their programming projects. The worst part of my job is not having enough time to do everything I would like to do.

So how do I get here?

My favourite subject at school was mathematics. This led to my first degree in computer science. It was very difficult for me at that time to find a programming job because of my cerebral palsy. I discovered by accident that I could study for a master's degree to become a rehabilitation engineer. I taught in this special school where I established an assistive technology department to help disabled pupils to learn. I then went back to university where I studied for a PhD in Computer Science. After a period of research posts, I became a lecturer and was promoted first to senior lecturer and then to Professor. When I was in primary school, everybody thought that I should study languages at university. I was very lucky that the teachers in my secondary school encouraged me to keep my options open. It was the only then that I realised that mathematics was what I loved. This enabled me to apply for a BSc in computer science. My MSc included subjects like anatomy and physiology. Within my research, I have gone back to my languages so that I can understand how people communicate. That has allowed me to use artificial intelligence in the design of communication aids for people who cannot speak. Who would have believed that I would come back to languages and use this in computer science.

Prof. Annalu Waller
Prof. Annalu Waller Professor and Head of Computing, School of Science and Engineering, University of Dundee
Computers in Science Activities
Computers in Science Activities

Dr Anne Keitel

Job Title: Lecturer, School of Social Sciences, University of Dundee.
Area of Science: Psychology.

Introduce yourself - who are you and what is your job?

My name is Anne Keitel, and I am a lecturer at the University of Dundee. That means I do research and I also teach students who study Psychology or Medicine.

What do you research, why?

I am a brain researcher! That means my research is about how our brain works. I try to find out what happens in our brain when we listen to music or to someone else talking. For example, I record people's brainwaves while they listen to stories, or while they tap their finger to music they hear. The rhythm in music and speech is really important for our brain to understand everything we hear.

How does your research help people?

Everyone's brain works a little bit different and that's great! For example, musicians' brains can understand music, talking, and rhythms much better than the brains of people who don't play music. But sometimes the way our brain works can also make it harder for us to understand other people, or to learn to read. My research is helping people to learn to listen and read more easily.

Tell us about your career journey so far

I was doing okay at school but not great. After school, I decided to study Psychology because that was easier to get in than Biology. Psychology teaches how our mind works and why we are the way we are. I thought it was interesting, but I didn't really love it. But then I discovered brain research and that changed everything! I loved it so much that I became a really good student. I then did a PhD, which is like a doctor for science. Now I am a lecturer, and I can do all kinds of different research and try out many new things.

What subjects/qualifications are useful in your role?

Biology, science and maths are the most useful subjects for my work. But writing is important too. Being a brain researcher means I can do lots of different things all the time, which keeps it interesting.

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Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash
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Dr Anne Keitel
Dr Anne Keitel Lecturer, School of Social Sciences, University of Dundee
Brain Activities
Brain Activities

Dr Aurora Sicilia-Aguilar

Job Title: Reader, School of Science and Engineering, University of Dundee.
Subject Area: Astrophysics.

Introduce yourself - who are you and what is your job?

I am Aurora, and I come originally from Andalusia in southern Spain. I am a Reader at the University of Dundee, which means I do teaching and research. For my research, I investigate how stars and planets form, using data from different types of telescopes, including ground-based ones but also space telescopes such as the Herschel or the Gaia space missions. With those I can look at baby stars and their surroundings, see how they form inside giant gas and dust clouds in our galaxy, and explore how their surroundings may change the type of planetary systems that will appear around them.

My favourite type of observations are "spectra", which are not images of stars, but the rainbows that you can produce with the star light and a type of instrument that we can mount on telescopes, called "spectroscope" (you can also make a spectrum by putting a CD under a lamp, move it around and you'll see the light from the lamp splitting into all the colours of the rainbow!). These rainbows of starlight can tell us a lot of things, such as what stars are made of, and how they move in space. Thanks to this information, we can determine things such as the way stars form and whether they have planets orbiting around them.

What do you research, why and how does this help people?

By investigating how stars and planets form, we can understand the origin of our own Solar System, as well as how likely it is to find other systems that may be similar to ours and may even host life. It also helps us to appreciate how unique our planet is, as far as we have seen, and to find out what makes it so special for us. We ourselves are only a very tiny part of the universe, and Astrophysics helps us understanding the universe that surrounds us.

It is not easy to measure how stars and planets form, because unlike in other fields in Physics, you can't really bring a star to your lab to analyze it. Moreover, stars and planets take millions of years to form, so you can't just wait in front of a star for a few million years with your telescope to see what it is doing. Therefore, you need to look at a lot of different stars, with many different telescopes. Finding stars and planets that are in different stages of their formation, you can reconstruct the "movie" that lead to the formation of our Solar System. Different telescopes detect different types of light around the stars and planets. Hot objects emit different light compared to cold objects, and the various elements that form matter also emit differently. Using many telescopes, you can obtain an image of the young stars and planets that is not just a pretty picture, but it will tell you a lot about its temperature, its composition, and how it is moving in space.

Tell us about your career journey so far

I was very interested in stars and also in rainbows since I was in nursery. First, I found stars quite scary (all so much open space up there that you can see at night, and you are just sitting on a tiny speck!) but also very interesting. I also liked rainbows and halos (these are rainbows produced by ice crystals) very much. When I learnt that it is by looking at their rainbows that we can tell what stars are made of, I found this really fascinating, and I wanted to be an astrophysicist since I was 11.

I studied Physics at the Autonomous University of Madrid, in Spain, and then I went to do a PhD to the US with a grant from the Smithsonian Institution at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. There I also had a possibility to use a lot of telescopes, including the Spitzer Space Telescope, and also to observe myself in places like Mount Hopkins in Arizona and Hawaii. Then I moved to Germany, to work at the Max-Planck-Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, and then back to Spain as a lecturer in Madrid.

But because I also have a husband who is a researcher as well, and three trilingual children, we ended up moving to the UK 7 years ago as it was easier for both of us to find a job in the same area. In the UK, I first worked at the University of St Andrews, and since 2017, I have been working at the University of Dundee. Since then, I have been working with the data we obtain from many telescopes, including those that orbit the Earth (Hubble) or those that travel to other places in the Solar System (Spitzer and Herschel), and also telescopes in different places around our world (including the US, Chile, Spain, France, and Russia.

What subjects/qualifications are useful in your role?

I always liked maths, physics (which comes down to understanding all what surrounds us) and programming with computers (I never liked playing computer games too much, but making them, or telling a computer how to do something, or how to calculate something, that was a different matter I always loved - I started programming in BASIC as a child). I first obtained a degree in Physics, specialized in Theoretical Physics, and then I did a PhD in Astrophysics. I also had to learn a lot more to be able to work with different types of telescope data and programming languages. At the end, the main useful thing is to always be willing to explore and learn new things, and to find out what makes them be the way they are.

Dr Aurora Sicilia-Aguilar
Dr Aurora Sicilia-Aguilar Reader, School of Science and Engineering, University of Dundee
Through the Eyes of Telescopes Activities
Through the Eyes of Telescopes Activities

Dr Carmen M. Escudero-Martinez

Job Title: Postdoctoral Researcher, School of Life Sciences, University of Dundee.
Area of Science: Plant Sciences.

Introduce yourself - who are you and what is your job?

I am scientist at the University of Dundee where I am studying plant roots and soil organisms. I ask questions about the type of organisms that live in the roots. To find answers to these questions, I do experiments in the glasshouse where plants grow and in the laboratory. To find answers, I need also to analyse the data from the experiments in the computer. Finally, I need to give presentations and write my results to share the answers to those questions with the rest of the world.

What do you research, why and how does this help people?

I am fascinated about how plants control all the marvellous organisms that associate with their roots in the soil. These plant root partnerships are very important because they allow plants to grow better and healthier. Soils also are healthier thanks to these partnerships. Many of these plants are crops that feed us. Keeping soils healthier contributes to reduce climate change as they store lots of carbon.

Tell us about your career journey so far

During my journey I have studied in different countries and diverse topics. This is common when you are a scientist and shows that you can work in different places with different people, it is very exciting! I studied my bachelor degree in Environmental Sciences at university in Spain, but I had the opportunity to do part of these studies in Italy. Later, I obtained a grant to wort as a technical assistant in France with soil nematodes. This experience was so inspirational that I decided to continue my studies doing a Master in Biological Sciences between Belgium and The Netherlands. As my passion for science continues, I completed my PhD at the University of Dundee at the James Hutton Institute (UK), where currently I am working as scientist.

What subjects/qualifications are useful in your role?

Study a bachelor’s (undergraduate degree) in Biology or related Sciences. Also gain some work experience in labs through opportunities such as summer schools.

Dr Carmen M. Escudero-Martinez
Dr Carmen M. Escudero-Martinez Postdoctoral Researcher, School of Life Sciences, University of Dundee
Soil Safari Activities
Soil Safari Activities

Dr Caroline Erolin

Job Title: Senior Lecturer, Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification, School of Science and Engineering, University of Dundee.
Area of Science: Medical Art and Illustration.

Introduce yourself - who are you and what is your job?

Hi, I’m Dr Caroline Erolin and I’m a senior lecturer at the University of Dundee. I run a master’s degree in Medical Art. Medical art is the application of art and illustration to medicine. I teach students how to use different kinds of art materials and computer software to create realistic images of the human body and anatomy. These can be used to help patients understand their disease better, or to help train medical doctors.

What do you research, why and how does this help people?

As well as teaching medical art and illustration, I’m also involved is some research. I’m particularly interested in 3D digital models (like the ones in the links on the activity sheet), that can be interacted with, meaning they can be moved and rotated etc. I research methods to create these as well as how to use them in teaching medicine and anatomy. I am also interested in new technologies such as virtual reality (VR) and how this can be used viewing 3D models.

Tell us about your career journey so far

I’ve always loved to draw. Growing up I would draw mostly animals and had a vague idea that I would work as an artist. I studied art and biology at A-level, before studying art and design at University. At university I became more interested in the human form and anatomy and found out about the profession of medical art and illustration. I went on to study a master’s in medical art at the University of Manchester. After which I was employed as an assistant medical artist at the Unit of Art in Medicine at the Manchester Medical School. My job involved producing teaching resources for medical students, as well as helping out with facial reconstructions for both forensic and archaeological investigations. After working there for three years, I moved up to the University of Dundee along with my department head to set up a new MSc in Medical Art. I’ve been here for 15 years now, and my role has evolved over this time. I’ve run the MSc programme since 2014, and 2016 completed my PhD in medical visualisation.

What subjects/qualifications are useful in your role?

People come into medical art from both art and science backgrounds. Either a degree in a visual art such illustration or fine art, or one in a science such as anatomy or biological sciences is suitable for entry to a specialist masters programme in medical art.

Dr Caroline Erolin
Dr Caroline Erolin Senior Lecturer, Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification, School of Science & Engineering, University of Dundee.
Art In Science
Art in Science Activity

Claire Fitton

Job Title: PhD student, School of Medicine, University of Dundee.
Area of Science: Anatomy, Medical research.
Claire Fitton - Women In STEM

Introduce yourself - who are you and what is your job?

Hi, everyone, my name's Claire and I'm a PhD student at the University of Dundee. This means that I'm a scientist. I went to university to learn all about how the human body works so now I do lots of research to help doctors and surgeons make sure that the treatments that they want to give their patients are safe.

What do you research, why and how does this help people?

I work anatomical models to help doctors and surgeons ensure the cardiovascular treatments they are giving to patients are safe. Watch the video to find out more!

Tell us about your career journey so far

I am at the beginning of my career as a researcher so a very short story so far. I studied anatomy at university for my undergraduate degree, and then I went on to do a Masters in Forensic Anthropology. From here I went on to do my PhD which I’m still completing. Hopefully, I’ll be able to get a job in a university doing research when I’m done!

What subjects/qualifications are useful in your role?

If you wanted to be a scientist by me, then subjects like biology and chemistry are really important. If you enjoy them, then you could go to university and learn about a particular part of science. I really enjoyed learning about the human body and that's called anatomy, but there are lots of different science courses that you can take!

Transcript

Hi, everyone, my name's Claire and I'm a PhD student at the University of Dundee. This means that I'm a scientist. When I was younger, I decided that I wanted to be a scientist. So I went to university to learn all about how the human body works. Now, I do lots of research to help doctors and surgeons make sure that the treatments that they want to give their patients are safe. To explain a bit more about my research. I've got some images to show you.

So here we have a human body. Our body has tubes all over it that you can see here, there are tubes called arteries and the blue tubes are called veins if we take a look inside these arteries. We can see there are lots of these blobs, and these are called red blood cells, the red blood cells take oxygen from the air we breathe in to all the cells of our body so they can do their job properly. But sometimes if we don't look after ourselves and are unhealthy for a longer period of time, what can happen is that these arteries and tubes can get blocked with all this yellow stuff like you can see on the right there. And now these red blood cells can't get through or not as many can like they could before like the artery on the left. If this happens, then a doctor can help and I've got a video to show you how. A doctor can take a stronger tube, made out a special metal and enter the artery like they are here. They can travel through the artery to the place where the blockage is and we'll see that in a minute with some of the yellow stuff we saw before. Once they've reached the site of the blockage, this tube can then be expanded with a balloon below it. This pushes the blockage to the side that the balloon is removed and the red blood cells we saw earlier will now be able to travel back through and get to the cells.

However, before this treatment was tried in a patient for the first time, it was tried in a model first and any new treatment will be tried in a model first. It's my job to see if our model is realistic. So how similar is it to a living patient? Because if we can show that it is similar, then we can do lots of tests and make sure that the treatment is safe. A typical day for me would be spent inside the lab doing lots of these tests, sometimes looking down a microscope and sometimes looking online to see if any other researchers have done any work that can help me. The great thing about my job is that I get to meet lots of other scientists and doctors and people who are excited about science and want to help people. If you wanted to be a scientist by me, then you would have to pay attention in science. And then when you move up through school, you can take subjects like biology and chemistry, and if you enjoy them, then you could go to university. I really enjoyed learning about the human body and that's called anatomy. But there are lots of different science courses that you can take. I hope I've given you an example of how exciting science can be and how it can help people.

Claire Fitton
Claire Fitton, PhD student, School of Medicine, University of Dundee

Hilary Arsenault

Job Title: Research Assistant, Leverhulme Research Centre for Forensic Science, School of Science and Engineering, University of Dundee.
Area of Science: Forensic Science- Forensic Biology- Transfer and Persistence of DNA.

Introduce yourself - who are you and what is your job?

Hi there! My name is Hilary. When I was a kid going through school, I really enjoyed science. As I got older, I became more interested in biology over all the other sciences. Reading crime novels and watching forensic themed TV shows sparked my interest in forensic science and from there I decided I was going to study forensic science. I studied hard for 5 years at university learning about many different areas in forensic science. After this, I decided that I wanted to work as a forensic biologist and spent my last year of studies specialising in forensic biology. I now work as a research assistant at the Leverhulme Research Centre for Forensic Science at the University of Dundee. As a research assistant I get to design and carry out experiments to try to answer specific scientific questions.

What do you research, why and how does this help people?

As a forensic biologist I mostly do research on DNA. DNA is the code that carries all the information that controls how you will look and how your body will function. As a researcher I spend my time trying to understand how DNA moves and how long it can last when it is outside the body. I do this job in the hope that my research will provide helpful information to the police, the court and other forensic biologist whose job it is to interpret DNA evidence when it is collected from a crime scene.

Tell us about your career journey so far

I am at the beginning of my career as a researcher. The first research job I had after I finished my education was at a cancer research institute. There, I used my knowledge of DNA on the DNA sequencing platform where it was my job to use very advanced machines to get the code of a person’s DNA. I would give that code to my fellow researchers who would read the code and used it to understand what job that piece of DNA did in the human body. I left the job at the cancer research institute and moved countries to work in my current job as a research assistant. My interest in my current area of research was first sparked by some of the work I did in my last year of university. My job as a research assistant is a great opportunity for me to continue doing the kind of research I find very exciting and interesting while advancing my career in forensic science.

What subjects/qualifications are useful in your role?

Forensic science is a term that is used to refer to a lot of different jobs with many different sets of skills. Different levels of education and training are required depending on the job you want to do within forensic science. To become a forensic biologist, in high school, you need to take a wide variety of different classes. Classes such as biology, chemistry, physics, English and maths. I then studied at university. Many people that work in research, like I do, often hold some sort of advanced degree (MSc or PhD). I have found in the field of forensic science it is easier to get a job with an advanced degree. If you choose to continue with your forensic education at this higher level, you will need to apply to a graduate level university program. I chose forensic science as my subject of study from the beginning of my studies. However, to work in forensic science this is not required. May people will study a subject and use their knowledge of that subject to work in the area of forensic science.

Hilary Arsenault
Hilary Arsenault Research Assistant, Leverhulme Research Centre for Forensic Science, School of Science & Engineering, University of Dundee
Forensic Science Activities
Forensic Science Activities
Leverhulme Research Centre for Forensic Science
Leverhulme Trust

Dr Holly Fleming

Job Title: Research Assistant, Leverhulme Research Centre for Forensic Science, School of Science and Engineering, University of Dundee.
Area of Science: Forensic Science / Spectroscopy.

Introduce yourself - who are you and what is your job?

I'm Holly - I use different colours of light to help us see some types of evidence that would otherwise be hard to see.

What do you research, why and how does this help people?

I use lots of colours of light to help detect some types of evidence. This could be anything from fingerprints, fibres from clothes, or chemicals like petrol!

Tell us about your career journey so far

After finishing high school, I went to study chemistry at Edinburgh University. After this, I studied for a PhD in Optical Medical Imaging, where I worked with tiny glass fibres the width of a few strands of hair and attached nanoparticles (very tiny particles!) to the end. This was to help doctors sense inside lungs.

Following my PhD, I worked in St Andrews, using light from a laser to look at different whiskies.

I now work with light to try and find ways to detect trace evidence (very small amounts) like petrol or even fingerprints.

What subjects/qualifications are useful in your role?

Any interest in any of the sciences is helpful! Although chemistry and physics are very useful for my role.

Dr Holly Fleming
Dr Holly Fleming Research Assistant, Leverhulme Research Centre for Forensic Science, School of Science and Engineering, University of Dundee
Forensic Science Activities
Forensic Science Activities
Leverhulme Research Centre for Forensic Science
Leverhulme Trust

Judith Williamson

Job Title: Advanced Healthcare Science Assistant.
Area of Science: Genetic Diagnosis.
Judith Williamson - Women In STEM

Hello, my name is Judith. I'm twenty four, and I work here in the Human Genetics Department of NHS Tayside as an Advanced Health Care Science Assistant. The work carried out in this department each day plays an important role in diagnosing and treating people with genetic conditions from blood cancers like leukaemia and myeloma, to investigating any genetic links to infertility issues through techniques such as PCR*, array* and fish testing*, we can seek answers to genetic questions that helps guide clinicians and advise patients. As one of the newest members to the team, my work is primarily based in this cytogenetics lab where we set up and harvest cell cultures for karyotyping* and fish analysis. Once these samples have been cultured for the required length of time, slides can be made, baked and finally banded before they're passed to a scientist for analysis. In this video, I'll be showing you some of these techniques. Though certain aspects of my role as a genetics technician can be quite repetitive, I really enjoy knowing that the work I do each day has a real impact and benefits the lives of those around NHS Tayside and beyond. Growing up, I always had a love and interest for serving others and for science, as many of my family members worked in the NHS. At school owing to many of my teachers, my favourite subject was biology. And I can distinctly remember learning about cell division and mitosis, thinking to myself how difficult it would be to constantly retain in my memory all of the cell division stages.

I never thought that the things I learnt in that classroom almost 10 years ago would be key to my work every single day. After high school, I decided to pursue a career in biomedical sciences and did a degree at the University of Dundee. I really enjoyed my undergraduate, especially getting to learn about all the different fields that biomedical science covers. Coming out of the other side of my degree, I knew that I wanted to apply the knowledge and skills that I had attained, but I wasn't sure in what capacity. After moving back home to Shetland, I managed to get a job in the NHS as a Medical Laboratory Assistant. Here, my role involved booking in and handling patient samples and handing them over to scientists for further analysis. Whilst working there, however, I came to feel that I wanted to be more hands on with the science and skills that I had attained during university. I finally decided that I wanted to move back to Dundee and was lucky enough to get the job here in the genetics department at Ninewells Hospital. Though, of course, no job comes without its challenges, for example, sometimes it can be stressful with so many deadlines and urgent samples coming in or when you know a patient is going to receive bad news. However, I really enjoy being in the thick of it and knowing that my work really does benefit others. The opportunity to continue learning whilst helping others is a really important part of my job for me, and I hope to continue to develop my skills.

Technique Definitions:

  • PCR stands for polymerase chain reaction. It is a laboratory technique used to rapidly make millions of copies of a specific DNA segment. This makes it easier to study that segment in detail.
  • Array, or microarray, is a technique used to measure the expression level of many different genes at one time.
  • FISH stands for Fluorescence in situ hybridization. It is a laboratory technique used to detect and locate a specific DNA sequence on a chromosome. This is via fluorescent lighting.
  • Karyotyping is the process of identifying and analysing all of a person's chromosomes.
Judith Williamson
Judith Williamson, Advanced Healthcare Science Assistant, University of Dundee.

Dr Julieta Gómez García-Donas

Job Title: Lecturer in Forensic Anthropology at the Center for Anatomy and Human Identification (CAHID), School of Science and Engineering, University of Dundee.
Area of Science: Forensic Anthropology.

Introduce yourself - who are you and what is your job?

My name is Julieta Gómez García-Donas and I am a lecturer in Forensic Anthropology at the Center for Anatomy and Human Identification (CAHID) in the School of Science and Engineering at the University of Dundee.

What do I do at the University of Dundee?

My roles at the University include teaching students both lectures and laboratory practicals related to Forensic Anthropology; I also supervise students for their research projects and conduct research myself.

What do you research, why and how does this help people?

The main goal of forensic anthropology is to identify individuals using the information that we gather from their skeletons. We want to know who the person is. Bones can give us a lot of information about the person that we are trying to identify, and the pieces of information that the forensic anthropologist try to gather are, among others, sex, age and stature. I conduct research on those different pieces of information. In my research, I have developed techniques to identify unknown individuals that are of Southern European origin.

Tell us about your career journey so far

Before moving to Dundee, I did my master’s and completed my PhD at the University of Edinburgh. My PhD research was about identification of individuals through the observation of the patterns that we see inside bones, specifically ribs.

What subjects/qualifications are useful in your role?

If you want to become forensic anthropologist, you need to know very well the skeleton. More knowledge about skeletal muscles, how the skeleton can respond to, for example, diseases, is needed to understand the changes that we see on bones. Studies focusing on biology, anatomy, related biomedical sciences, among others, will give you the necessary background to become a forensic anthropologist.

Julieta Gómez García-Donas
Julieta Gómez García-Donas, Lecturer in Forensic Anthropology at the Center for Anatomy and Human Identification (CAHID), School of Science and Engineering, University of Dundee
Identifying Skeletons Activities
Identifying Skeletons Activities

Professor Karen Petrie

Job Title: Associate Dean for Learning and Teaching, School of Science and Engineering, University of Dundee.
Area of Science: Computing.
Professor Karen Petrie - Women In STEM

Hi, so I'm Karen Petrie, I am the Associate Dean for Learning and Teaching within the School of Science and Engineering. That's a very grandiose title but all it really means is I look after the students and try and make sure that the best experience they can when they're at university.

So what do I research?

Well, I actually research how do we teach science and engineering and how do we do that in the most productive way so that people actually can learn anything they want to. I think this idea of how do we learn is really important and doing the science behind that is really important because we want to be able to teach the next generation. We want people to learn and we want people to learn the important facts for them.

What's a typical day like?

I don't have one, I'll be perfectly honest and thank goodness for that, because I think if I had a typical day it would really bore me and I love the fact that every single day is different in my job. So I might do some research, I might do some admin, I might talk to some students and find out things are going on. And of course, I teach, I spend a lot of my day teaching.

What do I like best and least about my job?

I love speaking to people, I love talking to students, finding out how things are going on, and I love trying to help them when they have problems and issues. That's what really what fires me up and makes me passionate. I also really quite enjoy doing the research side of things and learning a bit more about new ideas, new concepts and thinking those through is really important to me. So I enjoy that. What I don't like, I don't really enjoy paperwork. I am dyslexic and for all I've to certain degree overcome that and I can write text so forth now it's still a struggle. It's still something that takes me a long time to do. And so I don't enjoy that part of my role.

So my career journey so far, quite excitingly for me, at least in December, I became a professor that took 20 years from finishing my undergraduate degree. So I did my undergraduate degree in mathematics then I did a Ph.D. in artificial intelligence. And then I took a series of jobs as postdocs and researchers across the world. I was lucky enough to work in Ireland and California, in the USA. Then I eventually joined Dundee's about 10 years ago, worked my way through the ranks there for senior lecturer and now I'm a professor and a lot of that, I have to say, is just about putting the hours in. It's about learning as you go along and be prepared to put the hours in. And if you do the 99 percent perspiration, that one percent inspiration comes and you get they are just like Edison told us.

What subjects and qualifications are useful in my role?

Well, as a computer scientists computing is obviously really key as is mathematics. But actually, what's really important as well, there's some sort of creativity, you have to be a person who's going to be prepared to design this next next bit of software, to want to create something. I think that creativity is something that's really important. So don't forgo subjects like art in school, do them with the maths and the computing, and that is what will make you the best scientist. Thank you so much for your time today.

Professor Karen Petrie
Professor Karen Petrie Associate Dean for Learning and Teaching, School of Science and Engineering, University of Dundee

Dr Margi Vilnay

Job Title: Lecturer in Structural Engineering, School of Science and Engineering, University of Dundee.
Area of Science: Structural Engineering.
Dr Margi Vilnay - Women In STEM

Hello, everyone. My name is Margi and I'm a structural engineer.

What is a Structural Engineer?

Structural engineers design and make sure that all the structures that are around us are safe and fit for their intended purpose. Structures like flats, houses, hotels, shops, bridges, offshore structures and even telephone masts.

What have I done in my career as a structural engineer?

I've been really lucky in my career as a structural engineer to have worked on a lot of really interesting and very, very different projects. I've worked as part of a team investigating historical structures in the Mediterranean and having a look at how we could protect them from any future earthquakes that might happen, preserving them for generations to come. I've also been a structural engineer in an engineering office which investigated the structural integrity of offshore platforms. That is, we had a look and analysed those offshore platforms to make sure that despite the really high wind and wave loads that they endure, they're still safe for the people who work on them. I also investigate what happens to structures and the really high impact loading. I look mainly at reinforced concrete structures and try to examine and simulate what would happen if they were hit by some really high blast loads. I do this in order to analyse the structural behaviour and try to figure out how we can protect structures in the future from any extreme loading cases.

What do I do as a lecturer?

I currently also lecture in structural engineering at the University of Dundee, where we go on a journey together, discovering how to combine maths and physics and our understanding of the world around us to design and make sure that the structures that we build are safe and fit for purpose.

What subjects and skills are needed to be a structural engineer?

In my job, I use maths and physics, as well as computer programmes, and I combine these to check what happens to structures under different loads. For example, a concrete column under blast load or perhaps a shield where bullet penetrates it, combining all of these together to analyse a structure under different scenarios. Apart from those skills, though, as an engineer there are quite a few other skills which are just as important, and they really are creativity and curiosity as well as teamwork and really good communication skills. All those are really important in order to be a good engineer.

Why I love being a structural engineer

I love being a structural engineer because no two projects are ever the same. You get to meet really interesting people and this is a profession that can take you around the world because let's face it, wherever you go around the world, there are structures and there are people that need to design them.

Dr Margi Vilnay
Dr Margi Vilnay, Lecturer in Structural Engineering, School of Science and Engineering, University of Dundee.

Dr Nicola Morrice

Job Title: Postdoctoral Research Assistant, School of Medicine, University of Dundee.
Area of Science: Biochemistry, Type 2 Diabetes Research.
Dr Nicola Morrice - Women In STEM

Hello, I'm Dr. Nicola Morrice, and I'm a post-doctoral research assistant in the Division of Cellular Medicine in the School of Medicine at the University of Dundee. In my research, I focus on trying to understand how a condition called Type 2 diabetes develops and how it causes different complications in the body.

What is type 2 diabetes?

So type 2 diabetes occurs when the body is no longer able to control the amount of sugar that is in the blood and a hormone called insulin becomes unresponsive in the body. And this causes a whole host of complications such as heart disease, peripheral limb disease, and even conditions such as dementia. So it causes a huge disease burden. Almost four million people in the UK now suffer from Type 2 diabetes.

What do I research?

So in our research, we're trying to understand how the condition develops so that we can try and reduce the burden of the complications from the disease and bring new and improved treatments for patients to allow them to lead healthier lives.

What's a typical day like?

So my job, I don't really have a typical day, there's a whole host of different responsibilities and things that we do from the day to day to get the research done. In a normal lab day, I would go into the laboratory and do a lot of different experiments to try and model how Type 2 diabetes develops. So we use systems called cell culture systems. So these we grow cells that are like human cells and animal cells, and we will treat them with a whole host of different chemicals and medicines to try and understand how the disease develops and to understand how we can reverse it. I also have a role in teaching in the laboratory, so we often have a lot of honours students who are doing their undergraduate degrees and Ph.D. Students who I help to teach as well. I often as well we will go to conferences and we'll make posters and give talk on the research that we're doing. So we share our findings with the wider community of scientists and we also publish papers and abstracts that we show what research we've been doing in the lab. So there's a whole different mix of skills that's involved with doing the research job. So the thing I like most about my job is that it can be really exciting. You're looking at new areas of biology that's never been explored before, so you can get a result and you could be the first person that's ever seen that result, which is really, really interesting. And it's really good to be able to have a job where you're pushing through new boundaries of knowledge and trying to understand how disease develops and to improve people's lives that are suffering from those conditions.

My career journey so far

To get the job that I currently have, I had to do both undergraduate and postgraduate degree. So I did my BSc in biochemistry here at the University of Dundee and I graduated in 2013. So during that time, I was lucky to do a summer lab project between my third and fourth years, and that really helped to give me the skills that I needed then to go and further my research career. I did my Ph.D. at the University of Aberdeen, and that's when I first started focussing on diabetes research, so I worked in a different area of research that I from now I work on. So I worked on a group of chemicals called retinoids and how they are changed and how they can be used treat obesity and type 2 diabetes. So all that skills and experience helped then to give me the skills that I needed to do the job I do now within the University of Dundee.

Dr Nicola Morrice
Dr Nicola Morrice, Postdoctoral Research Assistant, School of Medicine, University of Dundee

Dr Senga Robertson-Albertyn

Job Title: Postdoctoral Research Assistant, School of Life Sciences, University of Dundee.
Area of Science: Plant Sciences.
Dr Senga Robertson-Albertyn - Women In STEM

Who are you and what is your job?

Hi, my name is Senga and I'm a scientist at the University of Dundee. Specifically, I'm a microbiologist and I study the microbes that live on and around plants, particularly around the roots. This is important because some microbes can do very helpful jobs for plants like helping them to defend against pathogens and helping them to get nutrients from soil that they can easily get themselves.

What do you research, why and how does this help people?

My research focuses on finding microbial alternatives or complementary treatments to traditional farming techniques that could be harmful to the environment and also expensive. My research could also help to improve the nutritional content of some of the food that we eat. So I suppose, put simply, I work on food sustainability.

What is a typical day like?

In my job there's no such thing as a typical day. I can be doing lab work, attending conferences, training students, performing analyses or sharing our research and seminars or in videos like this. And I really enjoy the diversity and flexibility of my days, particularly at the moment are in early 2021 where a lot of people are working from home and I'm lucky that I can do most of my work from home just now. So that's great.

What do you like least about your job?

Now with all jobs that are some things that we love and some things that we don't like quite as much. So I'll start with I'm not quite as keen on and that's the fact that most research is based on funding from different organisations. And that normally means that a project will be funded for a set number of years, and that's how long your contract will last. So it means it's quite rare to get a permanent full time position. So you might find yourself changing job every few years as your contracts end. That being said, there are also gives you the opportunity to explore new research ideas and institutions and just broaden your own skills.

What do you like best about your job?

I love everything else about my job. I love contributing to research that can genuinely help current global concerns. I love that during normal times we get the opportunity to travel to a lot of amazing places for conferences or lab exchanges. I get to manage my own time so my work and my home life can be balanced quite well. And that's important for me because I'm a parent and the science community is very close and supportive. So another part of my job that I really enjoy is actually being part of that community that works really hard to make a difference.

Tell us about your career journey so far – how did you get to where you are now?

My career journey has been a little bit non-standard. So I was raised in a family where no one had been to university. So one I didn't think of as a type of person that would go to uni. And two, I actually had no clue on how to go about doing it anyway. So long story short, I left school when I was 16. I started working, but then in my 20s I really regretted not going to uni. So I managed to get a place on an access course at a local college. And then when I completed that, I was able to apply to university and I applied to Dundee. Now, it wasn't all plain sailing when I was doing my degree. I had to resit a year after royally failing some exams, but I got there in the end and it was in my final year where I decided that I wanted to continue with scientific research as a career after I was inspired by a project that I worked on all about bacterial communities living in our guts and the importance that they play in health. I applied to do a PhD looking at how bacterial communities help plants, and that was still here at Dundee Uni. They can't seem to get rid of me! I think of a PhD as a little bit like an apprenticeship, you know, when you're taught how to be a scientist. And I loved almost every second of my PhD, obviously it came with its challenges. And I think looking back on it, I would recommend doing a Masters before a PhD because it is quite a jump to go from a degree to a PhD straightaway. So when I finish my PhD, I was absolutely delighted to be offered a job in the same research group doing similar research to what I had been doing during my PhD. And that's actually the job that I do just now and I absolutely love it.

What subjects/qualifications are useful in your role?

I think if you want to pursue a career in science, one of the first things I'll say is that not all science jobs need a PhD or a masters. And you also don't need to know right now what area of science that you want to research. You'll find that degree courses, and particularly the one at Dundee Uni, it starts off really broad and as you progress, you get the opportunity to study more and more of what you're finding interesting until you eventually find yourself kind of finding yourself specialised in a research area one day. In order to start a science based degree, most universities are going to need you to have four highers at A or B level, and those must include at least one science plus English and Maths. But what I would say is that having more than one science is really helpful because there's a lot of crossover in research. I think experience in coding, too, is really important because you use a lot of that in analyses. And another helpful skill is to have another language under your belt science is international. So you're going to work with people from all over the world and visit a lot of different places. For me, I think a science career gives incredible opportunities, is flexible and highly rewarding. Plus you get the opportunity to influence positive change. So for me, it's the perfect job.

Dr Senga Robertson-Albertyn
Dr Senga Robertson-Albertyn, Postdoctoral Research Assistant, School of Life Sciences, University of Dundee
Soil Safari Activities
Soil Safari Activities

Dr Suzanne Duce

Job Title: Research Scientist in Bioinformatics, School of Life Sciences, University of Dundee.
Area of Science: Bioinformatics/Computational Biology.

Introduce yourself - who are you and what is your job?

My name is Suzanne Duce. I am a research scientist working in the School of Life Sciences at the University of Dundee.

What do you research, why?

My work uses a computer program called Jalview to study the materials inside our cells called DNA, RNA and proteins. This helps us to try and understand more about these molecules.

What is a typical day like?

I use Jalview to look at and study DNA, RNA and proteins, but I also help with teaching others to use Jalview. I manage our YouTube channel with training videos and have made a school workbook with easy exercises to teach high school students. I also make children’s books and comics about science. My favourite is "Kirsty’s Project: Searching for a New Medicine", which is full of fun pictures! You can read it Searching for a New Medicine - Kirsty’s Projec?t.

Tell us about your career journey so far

I studied chemistry at University and then did a PhD. Since then, I have worked in research labs in universities, hospitals and [life science] industry.

What subjects/qualifications are useful in your role?

For my job, I need to know about science, maths and computers.

Definition: Bioinformatics or Computational Biology is the study of large amounts of biological information. Computers are often used to help to analyse the information.

Dr Suzanne Duce
Dr Suzanne Duce, Research Scientist in Bioinformatics, School of Life Sciences, University of Dundee.
Searching for a New Medicine - Kirsty’s Projec?t
Searching for a New Medicine - Kirsty’s Project.
Computers in Science Activities
Computers in Science Activities

Labake Odushegun

Job Title: PhD student in Computing, School of Science and Engineering, University of Dundee and business owner (web design agency and web security services).
Area of Science: Computing.

Hi, my name is Labake Odushegun. I run a London-based web design agency and an on-demand private security company. I’m also completing my PhD within the School of Science and Engineering at the University of Dundee.

What do you research, why?

My research focuses on developing innovative new ways for people to use and interact with modern technology. It combines elements of computer science, affective science and neuroscience in a way that touches on many of my interests.

Tell us about your career journey so far

I initially set up a small web design studio roughly 12 years ago whilst studying for my first degree in Music Business and Arts Management. It came about as a result of people constantly asking me to help them out with their MySpace design (yes, that’s how old I am!). Fast forward 12 years, and it’s now an established web design agency - still small in size - but operating globally.

7 years into that, I launched an on-demand private security company, which provides security services to elderly people across London. The idea sparked from my ongoing experience caring for an older relative, which often involved safeguarding and protecting them during essential outings. This form of “close protection” was something I realized many elderly people did not have access to, but greatly needed. With the impact of COVID-19, we’re now focused on the security tech side of things.

I later decided to pursue my Masters in IT whilst managing both business and care responsibilities. It was a challenge juggling so much, but I had a strong desire not to abandon my academic potential. The significance of my final Master’s research project was what inspired me to further pursue a PhD.

What subjects/qualifications are useful in your role?

An interest in technology, coding languages (HTML, PHP, C#, R etc) and cognitive science would be extremely useful in my PhD role. However, an ability to push yourself and effectively deal with challenging situations is what will allow you to make a success in whatever it is you choose to do.

Labake Odushegun
Labake Odushegun is a PhD student in Computing, School of Science and Engineering, University of Dundee and business owner.
Computers in Science Activities
Computers in Science Activities

Trisha McAllister

Job Title: PhD student, School of Life Sciences, University of Dundee.
Area of Science: Plant Science.

Introduce yourself - who are you and what is your job?

My name is Trisha McAllister, and I am a PhD student at the University of Dundee. As a PhD student, I do research. This means I’m always trying to learn new things.

What do you research, why and how does this help people?

I am a plant scientist, so I spend my days researching plants. I want to know how they grow up and what’s happening inside them to make them the way they are. I find plants that look a little different than they should and try to figure out why. All plants have DNA, just like you and every other living thing. This DNA is what decides on our eye colour and hair colour, as well as a plant’s flower colour and how tall they can grow. When a plant looks different, I try to find the reason in its DNA. Changes in the DNA are called mutations. They can be really useful, or sometimes really bad for the plant. For example, one mutation could change a purple flower to white! Another mutation could stop it from growing at all. Learning what a mutation does helps us to understand how plants grow. We can use this information to grow better plants!

If you want to learn more about what DNA is, watch this video:

Tell us about your career journey so far

My career journey has been an interesting one! I wasn’t the best in school, I didn’t enjoy it and I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I grew up. But one day I discovered science. I went to college and university to learn all about chemistry and biology and I loved my time there. I started doing really well! I learned all about research, working in a laboratory and doing experiments. I had so much fun that I decided to continue learning and researching by doing a Master’s degree. After this, I volunteered in a lab for experience before starting a PhD. I changed subjects a few times along the way, but that didn’t matter. I just wanted to do research and find more interesting problems to work on! Now I really want to stay in plant science. Every day I can research different things and I get to spend time surrounded by pretty plants!

What subjects/qualifications are useful in your role?

Biology is the most useful subject for my work, and writing is really important too. Lots of plant scientists also use chemistry, and this is great if you want to research lots of different things!

Trisha McAllister
Trisha McAllister, PhD student, School of Life Sciences, University of Dundee.

Veronica Pravata

Job Title: PhD student, School of Life Sciences, University of Dundee.
Area of Science: Neuroscience.

Introduce yourself - who are you and what is your job?

Hi everyone! My name is Veronica, and I am a Neuroscience PhD student at the University of Dundee. I try to understand how the brain develops when we are young (neurodevelopment) and why sometimes it doesn’t grow up properly! I look at how sugar works in our brain and how it could help people who had incorrect brain development.

What do you research, why? How does this help people?

I have always been extremely fascinated by the brain. How does it work? Why do certain people’s brains not work properly? Scientists have been trying for years to unravel our brain and understand how to “adjust” it when it breaks. It’s like working with a very complex computer, and scientists are still understanding how it is wired!

This is where I am, trying to understand how the brain works. I work with a sugar called ‘O-GlcNAc’ (pronounced oh-GLUCK-nack), which can be found in thousands of proteins (the building blocks that do all the hard work in our body) in our cells.

Sugar can be attached to proteins to change their so called ‘chemical properties’. It’s almost like in a videogame where you can find upgrades for your weapon, and instead of shooting fire, you can shoot ice! Cool, isn’t it?! And because of that, it is pretty important that this sugar is properly attached to proteins.

I work on a disease called ‘Intellectual Disability’, which stops the brain from working properly. People with this disease cannot properly attach these sugar molecules to their brain’s proteins. Their brain struggles to grow, and this makes their life extremely tough! I try to understand how poor attachment of O-GlcNAc to proteins can cause this disease, and how we can cure them!

How do I do that? I use embryonic stem cells. These are very special cells that can become many things, such as neurons (brain cells). I use these to find out how changes in the attachment of sugar can affect their growth into neurons. To do that I use lots of tricks in the lab, such as making the neurons fluorescent (so they give off a bright, coloured light!) to study their development and understand what is going on. At the same time, when I identify that something is not working properly, I try to look for a cure! Right now, I am exploring the use of sugar supplements.

Tell us about your career journey so far

I grew up in Italy, in sunny Sicily, where I spent most of my time swimming in the sea. After my University undergraduate degree in Biotechnology I moved to Germany. There I did an internship where I spent most of my time in the lab researching how the brain works. Since I really enjoyed my time there, I decided to pursue a Ph.D. at the University of Dundee in a similar topic!

What subjects/qualifications are useful in your role?

Biology, Maths, and Chemistry were probably the most useful subjects in school (but try to do your best in all of them!) As for qualifications, I needed to go to University and get a degree in Biology or Neurobiology. I then continued my training by doing a Ph.D. (Philosophy Doctorate, which is a period of about 4 years in which you deepen your knowledge in a specific topic in a laboratory).

Veronica Pravata
Veronica Pravata, PhD student, School of Life Sciences, University of Dundee.
Neurons grown by Veronica Pravata and imaged using a microscope
Neurons grown by Veronica and imaged using a microscope.
Brain Activities
Brain Activities

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