PhD in Neuroinformatics : Maxine Mackintosh
PhD in Neuroinformatics at the Farr Institute of Health Informatics, UCL
Length of career:
You spend 80,000 hours at work, so do something personalised that you love, not a means to an end in an ill-fitting job.
Career in brief:
During my Biomedical Sciences BSc at UCL, I wanted to explore careers in science that were not lab-based. I wanted an internship at the intersection of business and science and in my naivety, I simply cold-emailed some of the most senior individuals in the pharmaceutical industry. Miraculously one replied and I spent a few months in Basel advising the Chief Technology Officer of Roche Diagnostics on their global strategy. I also spent a short stint at the Royal Society’s Enterprise Fund and went to Kenya on a UCL-funded programme to support entrepreneurs with Balloon Ventures. The following year I took another gamble and queried L’Oreal’s Scientific and Regulatory Director as to why they did not have a scientific internship. Next thing I knew I was working on the science of beauty for a summer.
I began an MSc in Health Policy and Economics at the London School of Economics and London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine to learn about the barriers and challenges to bringing treatments from bench to bedside. As I wanted to learn more about the impact of digital health on models of healthcare, I created mini research projects for myself, by cold emailing interesting groups, including NHS Innovation and the Centre for the Advancement of Sustainable Medical Innovation. I also attended every digital health conference, meet-up or talk I could and I started programming.
Job hunt time came and I struggled to find something that looked right for me. Luckily findaphd.com flagged one up at the intersection of neuroscience, public health and programming – perfectly combining my three interests. I was offered a place and am now working on early detection of dementia using data science. Prior to starting, I leveraged my network to undertake more health innovation consulting projects and decided to take an extended trip to the Silicon Valley to see how the digital health scene compared to London. Whilst there, I met the founders of HealthTech Women, a professional network of women working in health innovation. As the London women-in-tech scene had been instrumental in my transition into data science, I saw the value in setting up a hub in the UK. Now HealthTech Women UK, only 6 months old, has over 6,500 members.
I am now full swing into my PhD and balancing a number of side projects, including running healthtech events, growing a digital health community, speaking at enthusiast meet-ups and setting up a neurotech accelerator. A portfolio of activities keeps me busy and energised.
I spend my days:
I do some early morning exercise, side project admin and read the latest digital health news stories on my Twitter feed. Then I go into the Farr and start my PhD day. Given I have only just hit the three-month mark I have lots of reading to do and I go to a lot of conferences spanning dementia, digital health and big data. I learn best from talking to other people so it’s the most time-effective way for me to gather knowledge. If I work in the evening, it usually involves attending a healthtech meet-up or writing a blog or talk I’ve promised to do.
I have been propelled into an incredible community of digital health fanatics. I have the privilege to interact, on a daily basis, with some of the most amazing thought leaders, technologists and innovators in health and technology. I learn best from people and love meeting others, so my highlights have to be all the amazing individuals I’ve met professionally.
Imposter syndrome… I do not feel I have actually done that much compared to all those I interact with professionally. I have heard some senior people say the same, so I suppose we are all afflicted with this at every stage.
I still wonder if:
What if I hadn’t had my Dad? As a physicist turned businessman he has always filled me with confidence and supported me when I’ve stepped off the academic standard path. I have many individuals who have had a huge impact on the way I lead my life, my ambitions and the directions I have taken. Often it is the seemingly unimportant words of advice or comments that can make the most pennies drop. I wonder where I would be had I not had amazing mentors?
Skills I consider most valuable:
Being unashamedly enthusiastic, honest about your capabilities and constantly explorative. Self-assurance and a sense of humour don’t hurt a bit.
I am inspired by:
Unexpected, unusual and incongruous people doing wonderful things, but in their own style. Professionalism does not mean boring, snooty or characterless. The oddballs are the most inspiring for me.
Words of wisdom:
Always keep exploring, never settle for something mediocre and have as many coffees with interesting people as possible. Pretty much everything I have ever got started from a cold email and an informal coffee chat.
Absolutely no idea. Planning one month at a time. If something in the present takes my fancy and it does not close any doors for the future, I just do it.