Can you tell us a little about your career and the path you took to your present role at FoDOCS?
My career path has not followed the conventional academic route.
Graduate in Clinical Biochemistry & Pharmacology (1982); my first role was as Biochemist in the Endocrine unit in The Middlesex Hospital in Central London. Working alongside clinicians was immensely satisfying and rewarding (I published a significant number of papers). During that time, I was invited by Novo- Nordisk (a multinational pharmaceutical company) to assist in developing a highly sensitive growth hormone (GH) radioimmunoassay to measure GH in children’s urine…... I didn’t know then that it would be the turning point in my career....
I was approached by a scientist who wanted to measure GH release from biomaterials using my sensitive assay. A short time after, an EPSRC-funded Interdisciplinary Research Centre (IRC) in Biomedical Materials was established at QMUL by Professor William Bonfield. I was approached by the same scientist and offered a position in the IRC and opportunity to study for a PhD. Tasked with setting up the cell biology facility in the IRC, and under the esteemed mentorship of Professor Bonfield, I was supported and encouraged to ‘stand on my own feet’. Bill, as he was affectionately known, steered me towards potential collaborators and funders empowering me to be successful in my field.
The 12 years I worked in the IRC set the trajectory for the rest of my career; with 3 successful European grants, many publications, and the opportunity to meet eminent mentors along the way, many of whom, remain valued friends. My KCL career began in 2003; I was appointed as Senior Lecturer with the mission to set up a tissue engineering laboratory in the department of Tissue Engineering, Biomaterial & Biophotonics (TEB). Over the years I progressed to Reader, Professor in Tissue Engineering and in 2014 was appointed HoD.
Today, I am as driven and as passionate as I was in 1982, I lead the Tissue Engineering group in COCTS; using basic science approaches, my group focuses on producing innovative tissue engineered systems based on 3D bioprinted cellular and acellular scaffolds for regenerating tissues for clinical application.
In 2022, I was appointed Associate Dean for Career Development, assisting others to achieve their ambitions, a role I enjoy tremendously.
What, if any, challenges did you encounter along the way, and how did you navigate them?
I have encountered numerous challenges along my career path. Perhaps the biggest was that of being a woman, in very much a man’s world, with only a handful of women in senior posts. I fearlessly navigated my way with the spirit instilled in me by my father to ‘believe in yourself’ and you can do and achieve anything you want to.
Still today, I approach any new challenge in the same spirit. I have been President of the UK Society for Biomaterials, Secretary of the European Society for Biomaterials (ESB), am Fellow of Biomaterials Science and Engineering. I was President of the 2020 World Biomaterials Congress. The first awardee of the ESB, Klaas de Groot Award (2018) ‘for mentoring early career researchers.
In June 2012, I was awarded the Italian Civil Honour ‘‘Order of the Star of Italy’ ‘to recognize those expatriates who have made an outstanding contribution to the preservation and promotion of national prestige abroad’. This was the highest accolade and proudest moment of my life; having lost my father just a few months earlier, I was honoured to receive this, as it was more his, than mine, because he made me who I am today.
I am blessed with a wonderful close-knit family who have supported me throughout my career both in good times and in tough times........even if they still challenge me with getting the work-life balance right!
If you could, what advice would you give your younger self at the start of your career?
Believe in yourself, never think you are not good enough. Once you have established your career, don’t forget you have another life outside of it.
This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is ‘Embrace Equity’. What does equity mean to you, and how can everyone (regardless of gender) embrace it?
To me equity means understanding the journey required to achieve equality, recognizing that people have different requirements and circumstances and may need different kinds of support to achieve the same thing.