Current position: Chief Scientific Officer at Vision Technologies Ltd
My career path:
I came to the RVC after studying at the interface of engineering and life sciences. Initially graduating with a BSc in Biomimetics in Germany, I went on to complete an MSc in Biomechanics at the University of Manchester. I then joined the RVC for a PhD in equine lameness detection, being attracted by the world-class reputation of the Structure and Motion Laboratory. During this PhD, I had a lot of freedom and already started to develop my own line of research into visual perception using eye tracking. I wanted to find out how veterinarians look at horses to make decisions regarding gait abnormalities. In parallel, I worked on the development of clinically applicable, sensor-based gait analysis.
After finishing the PhD, I stayed at the RVC on a short-term contract basis, first assisting a project into feline chronic kidney disease (CKD) and then running my own 6-month project developing an e-learning tool that teaches equine gait assessment. During this time, I started looking for post-doctoral positions in the area of visual perception and decision making: I had fallen in love with cognitive psychology, which I pretty much self-taught myself during the four years of my PhD. Within a few months, I was offered a Research Fellow position at the University of Birmingham, working in exactly that field as part of an international European project. This came from rattling almost daily through jobs.ac.uk adverts and being super picky. Thankfully, I was able to postpone the start date and finish the work at the RVC, so that I had a fluent transition.
The first year of the Research Fellow position was a series of highs, now working with professors in decision making and ergonomics. However, I started to feel the increasing drive to achieve more real-world impact than the classical academic setting can offer. I therefore decided to not continue in academia and try working in industry instead. I therefore began looking for a position where my scientific knowledge fitted in and that would lead to direct patient benefit. This led to me joining Vision Technologies Ltd. (‘GiveVision’) on completion of my Research Fellow. GiveVision is a small company which is developing wearable sight enhancement for people with visual impairment. I have since been promoted to Chief Scientific Officer. In my daily role, I am leading on clinical studies and experimental design, regulatory compliance, grant writing, in-house technological studies, project managing our successful Innovate UK grant bid as well as taking on Operations responsibilities.
Skills developed at the RVC
During my time at the RVC, I was quite proactive about making the most of the resources that are offered within the institution. I think that this helped me develop skills that are still useful and that are appreciated by both, academic and industrial employers. Workshops that come to mind are Grant Writing, Scientific Writing, Advanced Excel, Advanced Statistics, Presentation Skills and – actually - Assertiveness. These very high quality courses developed skills that I still use pretty much every day. I also got a team together to compete in the BBSRC’s BiotechnologyYES programme, supported by the RVC. The entrepreneurial skills I developed as a direct result of this competition were a large factor that eventually set me on the industry course, supported by later entrepreneurial training programmes at the University of Birmingham.
In addition to ‘extracurricular’ training, I explored opportunities for independent research at the RVC and the associated funding quite early on. Realistically, without funding, you won’t get anywhere with your ideas once you are not a student anymore. I hence made early contact with relevant RVC advisors, leading to me being seemingly the first PhD student to ever receive an internal RVC research grant, in this case to fund my eye tracking work. Subsequently, I successfully applied for external funding for research collaborations and travel, ultimately leading to a successful bid for my first ‘big’ grant to run my own e-learning project ‘LamenessTrainer’. This happened thanks to amazing support from the RVC’s Animal Care Trust team. I am now writing much bigger bids that put these early grants to shame. However, they taught me how to write a good bid, and I learned how to see a project through and manage small teams. Furthermore, they proved just how much you can achieve with a few thousand pounds if you put effort and thought into your work, and if you care. Writing and leading on much bigger projects now, this is still a good reference to scale up and set expectations high.
Working as part of the Structure and Motion Lab team has been a great experience, seeing how large teams/groups can be run and coordinated. The weekly Monday meetings are something which I have since introduced in my workplace to help the team synchronise. I have met so many nice people, many of whom I am still in touch with, and with whom I could discuss challenging scientific and other questions. This openness amongst the ‘shop floor’ has shaped the way I interact with other scientists. Seeing people reaching for the stars – and getting there – has definitely equipped me with extra confidence in pursuing something I believe in. In parallel, it was an environment heavily focussed on high quality publications, and I left my PhD with quite a good publication record that has definitely strengthened my CV – although industry doesn’t necessarily care about these things.
Overall, my advice would be: make the most of your time and the resources available at the RVC. You might not necessarily find them elsewhere, and they will equip you with knowledge and skills that help you on your career path. After all, the RVC is still a small community compared to big universities such as Birmingham or Manchester. Use this environment to flourish.