What is your scientific background?
Currently, I am a PhD Student at the University of Leeds and part of the CDT TERM iMBE 2017 cohort. This is focused on research into regenerative medicine and tissue engineering. Specifically, my research focuses on haemarthrosis of the ankle joint. I hold a BSc in Biomedical Science with First Class Honours and a MSc with Distinction in Industrial Biotechnology from Liverpool John Moores University. As well as this, I have also worked within Upstream Development at Allergan Biologics Limited as an industrial placement student.
Why did you choose to become a scientist?
I have always found science interesting and it is an area that is continuously growing and improving allowing you to better yourself in the process. As a young child I struggled academically and science and maths was a challenge, however as you can see that is a challenge I have overcome through perseverance and determination. The impact that science can have on a person’s life is one of the key motivators within my research and career.
Which topic are you working on at the moment? Why did you choose this topic and how do you think you’ll make a difference?
My PhD is focused on haemarthrosis of the ankle joint which is predominantly prevalent in haemophiliac males of both younger and older generations as opposed to osteoarthritis which is seen on a larger scale later on in life. My research aim is to determine at which stage the biological process contributes to the change in mechanical behaviour resulting in the need for ankle fusion and total ankle joint replacement. I chose this line of work not just based on my interest in the field but also it’s potential to help others. From the age of 2 years old haemarthrosis can develop and despite the adoption of prophylactic treatment, it is still a major clinical manifestation of haemophlia, one that is under represented. By furthering the understanding of both the biological and mechanical effects of haemarthrosis within the ankle joint, different stages of diagnosis and intervention can be determined to prevent the need for end-stage surgical procedures.
Did you ever doubt your abilities as a scientist? Why? How did you handle these situations/feelings?
I’m sure at stages in our careers that many people experience self-doubt. I have experienced it from GCSE to now at PhD level as I am constantly looking to improve and learn. During these times I feel it is fundamental to focus on why you are conducting to research you are or why you chose the career path you are on. Focus on how far you have come and take on the feedback of others. For example, I still find it hard to believe that I am now a PhD student.
What (or who) motivated you in difficult times?
Motivation is key. When I feel demotivated I again focus on why I chose to conduct the research that I am and think of the impact of my research to the field and most importantly to patients in the future. I find wanting to help others an excellent motivator alongside having a supportive network of people whether that be in your work or home environment. Referring back to self-doubt, using these feelings to your advantage to prove yourself wrong can help motivate you and turn those difficult times into a positive outcome.
Do you come from an academic family?
No I don’t. I am the first from my immediate family to go to university and as far as I am aware the only scientist within my family. I believe this has worked in my favour as I felt no pressure from my family as I was allowed to follow a path that interested me. I felt that I could do anything I put my mind to and that the decision was always mine. I was and still am incredibly supported.
How does your family regard your career choice?
My family are pleased with my career choice and offer huge support along the way. I come from a small, working class town called Wigan where being a scientist isn’t considered the norm. However, I believe I am breaking the stereotype of what my town has been labelled as and for that my family are very proud of me. As I said before, there was no expectation forced upon me, my career was my choice and I would be supported whatever my decision.
Is it hard to manage both career and private life? How do you manage both?
This is something I most definitely still struggle to manage. Deadlines and workload can have a negative impact on your private life and those around you if you allow it to. I have been known to cancel my private plans to focus on work and although it is important to ensure you reach your deadlines and put aside the necessary time, having a private life is very important. I was recently told that “you are a PhD student, you are not your PhD”. Understanding that you are a person away from your research is fundamental for your physical and mental wellbeing. Taking time for yourself I feel can improve your work life by giving you time to subconsciously reflect by doing something you enjoy or that you find relaxing. I find it best to set aside time during the day that work will be done but to also block out time for yourself whether it be a couple hours in the evening to relax, enjoy a hobby or socialise with family and friends.
If you had the option to give advice to a younger version of yourself, what would that be?
Believe in yourself.
What kind of prejudices, if any, did you have to face? How did that make you feel? Were you able to overcome these?
Unfortunately I have experienced quite a lot of prejudice of which some I still experience today. I find that there are still those who will focus more on my background, my accent and my appearance over my intelligence and ability as grounds for judgement. I often wonder if my male counterparts have experienced the same judgement. I am lucky that these judgements have never worked against me professionally and that these are just ‘passing comments’. Of course many of these comments are considered jokes but when you hear them every day it can become tiresome. An example would be when working in industry I was asked if I needed help as “I wouldn’t want to ruin my nails”. The joke was on him as my nails were not well maintained as working with bioreactors would ruin any manicure. I have also received prejudice from people in my home town due to a lack of understanding of what my job is. I have often been told to get ‘a real job’ however I am more than sure that my PhD will benefit me when it comes to finding a ‘real job’ in the future…
In your opinion, which changes, if any, are needed in the scientific system to be more attractive to women in science and possible future scientists?
Increasing awareness of the brilliant women currently part of the scientific system is a great way to start. I have met many inspirational and extremely intelligent women who have given me motivation and helped me realize that I am also capable of reaching the same level. I am currently part of a programme which is under the supervision of women which is rarely seen from my experience. During my school years, aside from my female teachers I didn’t have any external awareness of women in science, which I think is very important to address. By engaging with younger generations and allowing them to see that women are accepted and are very successful in this field I believe it would make science a more attractive option.
You can contact Megan on the following social networks: Twitter (@_megansharrock), LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/megan-sharrock-18351614b/)