Dec 31, 2021
7 mins read
Two years ago, we spoke to Katelyn, a PhD research student in Biomedical Engineering at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (located in Dublin).
Katelyn is now in her final year of the PhD. Not much has changed other than she is in the final push of this 4-year scientific marathon. Katelyn is looking forward to coming to the end of this part of her career and exploring what opportunities are next.
1. Introduce yourself, who are you, and what do you do?
Hi, I’m Katelyn and I’m a 2nd year PhD research student in Biomedical Engineering at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (located in Dublin), although I am originally from Canada. I carry out research in the field of orthopaedic biomaterials, and how those biomaterials interact with the human body and can enhance the bone healing process.
2. How did you arrive at this career (or point in your life/work)? Was it always something you knew you wanted to do?
For years I wanted to pursue orthopaedic surgery, but instead of taking standard pre-med courses at university I took Biomedical Mechanical Engineering at the University of Ottawa. During my bachelor’s degree I was part of the university’s fantastic CO-OP program, where you take on four 4-month long placements during your studies. I used this program to explore the different fields within mechanical engineering, I worked in oil and gas, naval ship design, biomedical device design, and finally manufacturing process improvements. These placements, along with my courses, helped me determine that I really did want to work in biomedical engineering, to ensure I’d stand out in a sea of resumes I would need to continue onto a master’s degree. I never thought for one minute during my bachelor’s degree that I would pursue graduate studies. I was a solid B grade student and believed that A’s were required to get into master’s and Ph.D. programs. I had a strong resume of work experience behind me and was accepted into a European double degree biomedical engineering master’s program. CEMACUBE is a joint program between 5 partner European universities, whereby the students study a general year at one of the schools, and a specialized year at another. Next thing I knew I was off to Ireland to study at Trinity College Dublin for my general year, followed by my specialization year in prosthetic and implant interface technology at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. During my master’s degrees I was still adamant that I wouldn’t want to do a Ph.D, that it wasn’t for me. I was going to go back to Canada and get a job in biomedical engineering somewhere close to some mountains and out of the rainy countries of Ireland and the Netherlands. Something switched in me during the spring of the second year of my masters, I was really enjoying the research! My plan was to finish the masters, go travelling for a while, then go back to Canada and apply to jobs and PhDs. That’s not what happened. I was approached by a professor at the University of Groningen with a PhD proposal for me while I was still finishing the masters. This moved my timeline up, and if I was to consider this position properly, I needed to reach out to my other contacts to determine all my options. I contacted people back in Canada and Ireland with regards to PhD opportunities… and the rest is history as I am back in Dublin during the 2nd year of my PhD. Sorry that was a long one, hope you stayed with me.
3. What about your job makes you jump out of bed in the morning, especially on those cold, dark mornings?
My PhD project. It’s a challenging question of science, but its very interesting to me. As well, it’s not the same as getting up for a regular job, you’re not working for “the man”. With PhDs, what you put into it you get right back out of it and to excel in science is highly motivational.
4. What is your personal cure for stress or how do you raise your spirits in times of doubt? Can you share a story?
Stress and times of doubt are a regular occurrence during a Ph.D. Imposture syndrome (the sense of being an imposture in your own life, and that you don’t deserve to be where you are and what you’ve accomplished) is very common as well. What I personally do depends on how severe the scenario is. In some cases, a good dose of physical activity, spending time with friends, and self-care (love a good bath, book, and facemask) will knock the stress off me. In other cases, I have to let it fester a bit, I let it take control for a few days, kind of like a head cold or small flu. I sit around in my bed and watch Netflix and feel sorry for myself, but then I always make plans to go outside and go hiking, biking, or skiing so that not only am I out in the fresh air, but I’m boosting my endorphins.
5. Who is your role model? If no one, any thoughts on this?
My female relatives. I am a third-generation woman in STEM, and very proud of that. My grandmother, who grew up on a farm back in the 1930s was granted a full scholarship to a top university to study Chemistry. She also went back to school when my mom, aunts, and uncle were young so that she could be the school’s chemistry teacher- as they had none. She proceeded to inspire that generation with amazing science that the ratio of kids from that area who have become engineers or scientists is wild (I wish someone would do a survey on this!) My mom is a chemical engineer in her own right, and is a manager working in oil and gas. I loved hearing her stories of going through engineering and being 1 of 3 girls in a class of over 100. I also have an aunt who completed a PhD in Metallurgical Engineering after she had children. I am so lucky to come from such a long line of STEM women, and I know not everyone is- which is why I am so keen to share my stories and hopefully inspire others.
6. What advice would you give to yourself if you could go back in time?
To worry less. I am always worrying about something, anxiety tends to do that to you. But so far, through hard work everything has turned out for the best.
7. Top 3 tips for girls starting out in STEM?
Don’t be afraid of bad grades
Don’t be afraid to ask for help or ask questions (no question is dumb!)
Keep your options open, and say yes to opportunities to work, intern, etc. Even if it means moving out of your comfort zone!
8. How do you measure your success?
Depends on the day. Sometimes success is getting out of bed on one of those hard days. Sometimes success is finishing a month-long study to find significant results. Other time success is winning best talk at a conference or getting to see my family after months away. Success is knowing that what I do every day will hopefully one day be something that will help improve the quality of life of at least one person in the future.
9. Where can we find out more about your work?
I work within the Tissue Engineering Research Group within the Department of Anatomy and Regenerative Medicine at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland.
A recent video showing some of our work: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OnbPKxlVWEg
As well for part of my masters I had to make a video about one of my thesis projects, which is found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yz46oFIbSS4
10. Are you social? Will you share your Twitter handle, or LinkedIn profile, or Facebook so that young women can connect with you?