Don’t consider a career in academia alone! Meet Jenny Marsden

Jenny MarsdenJenny Marsden is a Radiation Physicist working for the NHS and has had a keen interest in Medical Physics since she was 17! Here she tells us how she was inspired to pursue her love of science, how she wants to set the gender bias straight and how she believes everyone should have a chance to do something they enjoy.


SS: Jenny, how did you get to your current position?

JM:  I started A levels in Maths, Physics, Chemistry and Biology at sixth form college, and during my Physics A-Level we could chose to independently study a module of our choice.  I chose Medical Physics and from then on wanted to be a Medical Physicist! It seemed to be the best of both worlds, combining medicine with physics to help people! I did my degree in Physics (with Medical Physics) at Nottingham University and applied to the national training scheme for medical physicists. This is a scheme were you get paid a salary for training, including doing an MSc. I did my MSc in Medical Physics and Clinical Engineering at Sheffield University and began working for the NHs in 1998, before completed my training and obtaining my Diploma with the Institute of Physics and Engineering in Medicine in 2000. I then started working Hull and have progressed up the ranks to a Principal Physicist within my department.


SS: What, or who, inspired you to get a career in science?

JM: I was always interested in science and recall attending the Chemistry Department Christmas lectures at the University of Hull when I was younger. My great uncle took me, but I was also inspired to do whatever I loved by my parents. Having a passion (or two!) is very important. I had an excellent form teacher at senior school, who happened to also teach Physics, and several excellent Physics and science (and music) teachers throughout my education that all pushed me to pursue whatever it was that I enjoyed doing.

It takes a little spark of interest to blossom into a lifelong pursuit for learning, and I hope to inspire that spark for scientific learning in the people I meet during the Soapbox Science event. It’s really vital to aim to work in an area you enjoy, because then you have a chance at being continuously inspired and motivated, and caring about what you do.


SS: What is the most fascinating aspect of your research/work?

JM: I work for the NHS ensuring that the machines used to treat cancer operate safely and accurately, and are used in the best way. Radiotherapy is the use of high energy X-rays (or radioactive sources) for treating tumours, and although it has been used for over a hundred years, it’s only recently that computer and engineering technology have allowed us to shape the radiation exactly the way we want.

Radiotherapy Physicists get the equipment to give the right treatment in the way the doctor requests; but each patient is different, and each treatment plan is a little problem waiting to be solved. Our job is also to make sure the right tools are available to solve these issues, whether that is making sure the machines give the right radiation dose, getting the patient scans from another hospital, or implementing some new computer software, which models the radiation in the patient more accurately.

The most fascinating thing about my work is that the public believe that everything done in healthcare has been done before, and whilst this is generally the case, there is no specific patient case study, written up in a peer reviewed scientific paper which you can consult, with exactly the same history, pathology, circumstance and physical attributes as the person standing in front of you needing your help. Everything we do is bespoke for each individual patient. So, the role of the healthcare scientist is taking that scientific evidence base and applying it appropriately to make a positive difference.


SS: What attracted you to Soapbox Science in the first place?

JM: Well, you may have noticed that a lot of the Soapbox speakers are from Academic careers. Now that’s great, but, there are other avenues for pursuing science which may also appeal. Some may even have better long term security and extend your problem solving and leadership skills further.

I am especially pleased that Soapbox Science promotes women scientists as, after having two daughters, I realised that sexism and gender stereotyping is all pervading, from nursery dress up choices to expectations of what children will and will not enjoy, never mind peer pressure at school. It shouldn’t be like that.

There are barriers to women pursuing scientific careers (and I offered evidence to a Parliamentary Enquiry about this in 2013) but if we don’t want to waste the education our children have been given, it’s up to our generation (and women and pro-women scientists in particular) to change the public perception of what a scientist is, and how technology and engineering make such an impact on modern lives.


SS: Sum up in one word your expectations for the day – excitement? Fear? Thrill? Anticipation?

JM:  Eagerness! Preparing for the day is reinvigorating me, and I only hope that it interests others! But, I have a lot of practicing to do…


SS: If you could change one thing about the scientific culture right now, what would it be?

JM: Apart from having a better balance of women and men in scientific roles, presentee-ism in the workplace. This is more of a general societal workplace issue, but the time spent in the office should not be equated to the work done. Everyone should be celebrated for their career achievements rather than having their bum on a seat for the longest time possible.


SS: What would be your top recommendation to a female PhD student considering pursuing a career in academia?

JM: Don’t consider a career in academia alone! Have a look at all the other careers where you might be able to use your knowledge of science to do things, which have a positive impact on people’s lives, and that you might enjoy.

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