Surround yourself with a dedicated doctoral community who will support you: Meet Hannah McGivern

Hannah McGivern, Cranfield forensic institute, Cranfield University, took part in Soapbox Science Reading on 8th June 2019 with the talk: “Getting older is no Humerus matter! Myths about our skeleton and ageing”

How did you get to your current position?

My name is Hannah McGivern, and I studied for my undergraduate degree at the University of Exeter in Archaeology with Forensic Science achieving a BSc with Honours and accolades including a Dean’s Commendation for outstanding academic achievement and the Lady Aileen Fox prize for the best finalist dissertation. These achievements allowed me to pursue my interests and specialise in musculoskeletal anatomy through the study of my MSc in Forensic Osteology degree at Bournemouth University. My postgraduate research concerning the mechanical properties of a synthetic biomaterial in compression and tension compared with the competency of human bone, was worthy of a distinction and in turn was recognised by expert researchers in bone biomechanics at Cranfield University. I am now pursuing a PhD investigating the effects of ageing to the structure and mechanical properties of the clavicle and rib bones as part of the Cranfield Forensic Institute.

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

My fascination with learning how things worked and why persisted from a young age. This initial inquisitiveness stemmed from my grandad who was an engineer in the Royal Air Force. His passion for disassembling and understanding the scientific processes we experience in everyday life, from the gravitational pull affecting family members on the other side of the world, to the micro-organisms in bread-making ignited my scientific curiosity. My interest in the sciences then took flight through my high school and college education as I elected to study for the triple sciences award, as well as biology and chemistry A-levels, respectively. If it was my grandad who nurtured this love of science at an early age, it was the work of Professor Alice Roberts who later propelled my interest in musculoskeletal anatomy to new heights. The way in which she continues to communicate her enthusiasm for the study of the past together with human anatomy through her documentaries is very compelling. Having a prominent female scientist in the public eye gives me, and the next generation of young scientists, someone to aspire to.

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

The lessons instilled from my grandad still resonate with me today, and I still consider the most fascinating aspect of my work to be dismantling the complex, hierarchical structure of bone and understanding how all of these different structural components, many of which we cannot observe without recent technological advances, work together to give this composite its dynamic, mechanical behaviour.

What attracted you to Soapbox Science in the first place?

I was attracted to soapbox science because the event provides a platform that enables me to challenge the common preconceptions about what a scientist looks and behaves like, as well as demonstrate the enthusiasm I have to drive my research field forward and make a difference. I also thrive on opportunities that allow me to present my research to the public, outside of academia.  

Sum up in one word your expectations for the day.

Innovative.

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

The one thing I would change is the persistent pressure on young researchers to publish lots of journal articles, and secure further funding in order to publicise and continue with their research pursuits. This often detracts from the research itself, which can affect our enjoyment of our journey into a career in academia.

What would be your top recommendation to a woman studying for a PhD and considering pursuing a career in academia?

Surround yourself with a dedicated doctoral community who will support you, outside of your review panel or supervisory team. I would not be in the position that I am now without my fellow PhD students, who have become life-long friends, as they are the ones who will fully understand the situation you are in, as they will likely experience something very similar.

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