Meet Kirsty Smitten, passionate about antimicrobial resistance and microbiology!


I am a PhD researcher at The University of Sheffield working within microbiology and chemistry. I develop ruthenium antimicrobial compounds to treat multi-drug resistant bacteria infections. I always loved chemistry at school and became truly passionate about it at sixth form: I think this arose because my chemistry teacher was very supportive of me. My decision to work within metals in medicine came later on in my education: during my master’s year I had a very interesting lecture course delivered by my current PhD supervisor. The course specifically detailed research into ruthenium based anticancer compounds, which I found more interesting than any other lecture course delivered throughout my entire degree.

Although I enjoyed learning about ruthenium anticancer compounds the global need for novel antimicrobial compounds drove our decision to research in this area. Antimicrobial resistance is currently responsible for 700,000 deaths globally and this figure is expected to rise to 10 million by 2050 costing the economy £66 trillion if the problem is not addressed. I think I will make a difference in this field because the compounds I have developed are more active than clinically available antibiotics and retain this high active on multi-drug resistant strains. These include strains identified by The World Health Organisation as Priority 1: Critical for developing new treatments. My research has been recognised globally and I have received a national (The Ernst Young sponsored Nova Prize in Chemistry 2018) and international awards (Forbes 30 Under 30 in Science and Healthcare 2020).

Throughout my PhD I have doubted my abilities as a scientist. When assays fail or experiments don’t work, and you end up feeling like you have wasted hours of your time it is demoralising. In addition, when papers are rejected this is demotivating. I think sometimes reviewers forget there is a person on the other side that has to read the comments they leave, sometimes they can be insulting and when you have spent years on that research it becomes quite upsetting. In these difficult times I remembered that every PhD student goes through this, this is science it won’t always work the first time. My supervisor also motivated me, he is probably one of the nicest PI’s around, his relaxed but professional attitude makes our groups PhD atmosphere fun and enjoyable. Whenever I was upset about grants or papers being rejected, he reminded me this is all part of academia.

We are currently working on the commercialisation of my PhD research ( in ten years time I hope we will have formed a spinout company and will be in the process of producing our antimicrobial compounds for use as systemic antimicrobials or as coatings on medical devices. I hope we have a global impact and can reduce the deaths caused by AMR globally. If I was completely free to choose a scientific topic to work on it would be the research I am doing currently. I know how big of a problem AMR may become; we have seen the impact a global pandemic has on the world, and therefore I want to help in this field. The most memorable thing that has happened to me whilst working in science was my interview on CBS news.

Personal life

I don’t come from an academic family; my mother was a physiotherapist and my father an accountant. My family are all very proud of my career choice, they recognise the importance of my research; however, they do worry about the stress that an academic career can come with.

Besides science I am mostly interested in sport. I understand the importance of a work/social life balance and therefore manage to fit playing hockey twice and football three times a week into my schedule. In addition, I take my dog for walks every day and on adventures at the weekend to places such as Cayton Bay. I do sometimes find it hard to manage the career and social parts of my life, I often find myself working at weekends, but I make sure that I do find time to do things other than work. I think it’s important to remember, even if we enjoy our jobs, we need to have a life apart from them.

If I could give advice to a younger version of myself, it would be to enjoy my spare time as much as I can because the amount of it decreases the further you delve into an academic career. I would also tell myself to make the most of living near such beautiful places to walk during my undergraduate degree.

Women in science

I have found at conferences some academics will disregard my research or would not even approach my posters. I do think they would have given me more time if I were male, I think male PhD students receive a higher level of respect which is disappointing.

To make science more attractive to women, more women need to be employed in higher level positions such as lecturers and professors. Within my department 5 % of the lecturers are women which is a very low number. It makes me, as a budding female academic, scared because competition is high enough for junior lecturer positions and on top of this, we have to add in the fact positions for women seem to be scarce. I think public awareness will increase women wanting to enter into scientific research. If the younger generations can see females doing well, and researching exciting topics, they will want to do this themselves. We need to be inspiring the younger generations, through social media, blog posts and videos.

You can contact Kirsty at – or