What was your background and what made you decide to study for a PhD at WMG?
I have always had an interest in technology, having previously studied a BEng in Computer and Communication Systems Engineering and an MSc in Communication Networks at the University of Birmingham. As part of my MSc thesis I had the opportunity to develop software prototypes for application in the medical imaging field, which led to my interest in biomedical informatics.
I liked the idea of pursuing a PhD project that had a strong practical application and a positive impact on patients' lives, which is what appealed to me about studying my PhD on medical imaging in paediatric cancer at WMG.
Tell us about your research project - what were you working on and in what area?
Brain cancer is a leading cause of mortality in children, however with developments in medical technologies, drugs, and treatments, more children than ever are surviving childhood cancer.
The aim of my PhD research project was to investigate the application of advanced computer algorithms to aid clinicians with the characterisation of childhood brain tumours from MRI scans. The long-term goal is to minimise the need for surgery and improve the decision making process, by using a technique called ‘texture analysis’. By analysing the texture of the MRI scan, quantitative measurements can be used to capture information that may be beyond human visual perception.
A key collaboration with Birmingham Children’s Hospital - where I was co-supervised by Professor Andrew Peet and Dr Jan Novak - as well as a collaborative effort with a number of scientists and clinicians at Great Ormond Street and Nottingham University Hospital, have allowed robust testing of the algorithms on clinical data. The findings of my PhD project support the use of texture analysis for non-invasive diagnosis, however, to see the long-term application in clinical settings, further analysis of larger datasets is required.
How did you find the experience of studying for your PhD? Was it what you expected? Any advice for future students?
What I enjoyed most about my experience was the freedom to pursue my research interests and WMG’s culture of encouraging collaborative work, discussions and exchange of ideas. For example, I regularly attended journal clubs and discussions hosted by the Statistics department, as their research themes were relevant to my own.
I would advise students thinking about doing a PhD to consider their long-term ambitions and try to drive a PhD in a way that helps you to achieve them. It also needs to be a field that you are genuinely interested in, as a large element of a PhD requires self-motivation, which can be difficult to maintain if you do not have sufficient interest in the subject area. Also, it is a good idea to aim for a peer-reviewed journal publication, as it helps gather important feedback about your work, which can be a great asset when writing your thesis and during your viva.
Finally, perhaps the most difficult one is to try not to be disheartened when things don’t work out. Take a break, and re-visit your work later with a fresh perspective. Taking the occasional holiday goes a long way!
Where are you now? What are you plans?
Since submitting my thesis, I have moved to Scotland and started working at the University of Edinburgh. In my current post I help biologists by providing image analysis and informatics protocols, and custom software solutions. The interdisciplinary nature of my PhD was great preparation for my current role, where I get to interact with a variety of users from non-technical backgrounds on a regular basis.