Improving people’s quality of life: Meet Natalie Vanicek

IMG_1137Dr Natalie Vanicek is a Senior Lecturer in Sport, Health and Exercise Science at the University of Hull. Natalie’s area of expertise is in biomechanics, which is about understanding and describing how the human body moves. A lot of biomechanics relates to sport, to help athletes improve their performance and to prevent injuries. But the area of biomechanics that Natalie is interested in relates to studying how people move as a result of disease or trauma. Most of her work involves lower limb amputees, helping them walk better and further and helping them achieve daily activities that many people take for granted, such as walking up and down stairs. Gait analysis (the study of how we walk) is usually done in a clinical setting and Natalie works with other healthcare professionals, such as consultants and physiotherapists.


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

NV: I started studying Sports Science because I was active in sport and enjoyed areas related to health and well-being. After I finished my BSc, I wanted to do more research and enrolled on a Masters degree in Canada. This was when my research switched from sport to more health-focused. At this time, I knew I wanted to pursue a PhD degree and work in academia. I liked the mix of research with teaching and enjoyed having different roles (supervisor and teacher) and doing different tasks (writing and testing in the lab). I started working at the University of Hull in 2004 and completed my PhD while I was working full-time as a Lecturer. It was a challenge, but I worked in a supportive environment. Twelve years later and I haven’t looked back since.


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

NV: I was always quite good at sciences at school, but I also enjoyed languages and philosophy. I discovered Sports Sciences as an undergraduate degree pathway which combined my two passions. Now my interests are more clinical. I enjoy asking questions and then uncovering the answer (or one answer and more questions). My supervisor from my undergraduate dissertation helped guide me through my first proper research project and this inspired me to pursue more research studies.


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

NV: I think the most rewarding aspect of my work is talking to participants and understanding how my research has improved their quality of life. I like hearing about what activities they are able to do now that caused them problems previously. My work has also impacted on national clinical guidelines related to the physiotherapy of lower limb amputees. I continue to work in this area and plan to develop exercise programmes for the prevention of falls for amputees specifically.

But I also enjoy travelling to conferences in exotic locations. I’m fortunate to have had the chance of discussing my research with some interesting people in some beautiful places around the world.


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

NV: Soapbox Science will take me out of my comfort zone, standing up in front of a large crowd of people and trying to get my message across to those who aren’t experts in my area of work. I guess I like a good challenge and hope that my message will inspire others. Scientists don’t just work in labs, I work a lot with the public (although perhaps in smaller groups). Soapbox Science is another platform to share my message to get people to move more and be more health conscious.


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

NV: Can I have two words? Anticipation and excitement


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

NV: Encouraging more young girls to pursue science at GCSE and A levels and to continue their involvement in sport.


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

NV: Explore different areas (don’t put all your eggs in one basket, as the saying goes). Find out what your future career might be like and how you can get there. Go for it, work hard, and surround yourself with strong people who inspire you, professionally and personally. Be proud to be a female scientist, in high heels, trainers or lab sandals (personally, I prefer trainers).

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