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Research in Tissue Engineering

By Ella-Louise Handley

My name is Ella and I’m doing a Bioengineering PhD at the University of Edinburgh.

Engineering wasn’t actually my first career choice– I’ll admit, I didn’t really know what engineering was at school(I assumed, wrongly, it was all just bridges and motors, neither of which I was interested in).

Engineering is also very male orientated and, being in a single sex school, it wasn’t spoken about as much as other STEM subjects and seemed inaccessible to me as a female.

It was after accepting a place to study Medicine that I learned of all the incredible things engineers do – from developing medical tools and implants, to robots, drug development, the design of rockets, or methods to achieve renewable energy – and realised the diversity problems within engineering & technology.

My biggest advice to anyone wanting to enter STEM is that you don’t have to have it all figured out yet. I quit my course within a few months and later switched to Chemical Engineering – not only was my university very understanding, but the process was also surprisingly easy. It was far more common than I realised for students to change their course, or to leave and return later! Secondly, say yes to any opportunities and actively seek out things you’re interested in, whether that be taking part in competitions, volunteering, or looking for work experience. For me, volunteering on a hospital ward (where I mostly spent my time talking to patients or stocking up glove supplies) led to me meeting and later shadowing a consultant in cardiac surgery for a week!

I feel as though I’ve come full circle; my PhD is in tissue engineering which combines engineering and materials science with medicine and biology. I am looking to develop biomaterials for the treatment of damaged heart tissue. Not only are tissue engineering approaches are being studied for treatment of a huge range of illnesses, but they could eradicate our need for animal testing in labs and has the potential to provide animal-free lab-grown meat!

I love how flexible my work is and that I can push my research in the direction that I find most interesting. Following that, I am so glad I quit something that wasn’t for me, regardless of how much work I put in to get there!


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