Research Associate in Medical Image Computing: Dr Claudia Lindner
Career in brief
After my Abitur (A levels) in Germany, I undertook an apprenticeship with HKS Informatik GmbH, a business software development company in Germany. I continued to work for them during my undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in computer science at the Heinrich Heine University of Düsseldorf (HHU). It was during my undergraduate studies that I first became interested in the field of medical imaging. In recognition of my academic achievements, I became an elected fellow of the prestigious German National Merit Foundation. The foundation awarded me a study abroad grant and so partway through my Master’s, I undertook an international business qualification at the University of the Sunshine Coast in Australia. I then made medical imaging the subject of my Master’s thesis when I returned to Germany.
After completing my masters, I was offered various PhDs, but declined them as I was unsure whether that was the route I wanted to take. I decided to return to Australia where I worked as an IT project officer for Queensland Health, before travelling around Australia and Asia. It was while travelling that I realised that academia was the path I wanted to take. I think it was the combination of taking time out to reflect and speaking to different people with a variety of backgrounds that helped me come to my decision.
So I returned to Germany to take a job as a research assistant in theoretical computer science. This taught me a great deal about the research environment, and I gained experience in writing publications and teaching undergraduate students. It was then that I realised that my heart really lay in trying to pursue my own independent research in medical imaging and I started looking for PhDs in this field. I was keen to go overseas again, though somewhere a bit closer to home! I settled on the UK, mainly due to the strength of its research, and was awarded an MRC studentship to undertake a PhD in medical computer science at the University of Manchester. I believe that my experience as a research assistant really helped in being awarded my studentship. I had become very appreciative of the importance of both a good publication record and demonstrating the wider impact of my work. Five years on I am one year into a postdoctoral position at Manchester.
I spend my days
The focus of my current role is developing BoneFinder, software that automatically outlines the shape of bones on x-rays to assess the onset and progression of bone disease, work that I initially began during my PhD. So a good portion of my time is spent on software development and data analysis. I also spend time publishing and disseminating my results, both to scientists and also via public engagement at science fairs and school talks. The other part of my work is having conversations with collaborators, receiving feedback from clinicians and discussing ideas with industry partners. I also sit on several boards within the university representing research staff from the Centre for Imaging Sciences, and do a bit of teaching.
I feel as though I have had a rewarding career so far. Highlights are generally when my work has been recognised in some way, for example by a paper being published or being invited to give a talk. What I find exciting at the moment is being contacted by other researchers who want to use BoneFinder in their work and receiving interest from industry to incorporate it into a clinical tool – it’s great to know that my research has the potential to change things for the better.
Biggest challenges/obstacles: What I find challenging is juggling all the different demands of an academic career, from the actual research to the dissemination and teaching, plus having to continually look ahead to achieve your next steps. I find that being organised and able to prioritise my work helps.
Skills I consider most valuable
Aside from the technical skills, for example, quantitative analysis and computer programming, I would say that the two most important transferable skills are good organisation and communication. These are fundamental to everything from giving structure to your day to establishing collaborations. Being able to solve problems is also important, not just in terms of your actual scientific work, but also to figure out your next career move.
I am inspired by: There isn’t one single person who has inspired me, it’s more a combination of many different people and experiences. If I can, I like to try to live by the following extract attributed to the American poet Muriel Strode: “I will not follow where the path may lead, but I will go where there is no path, and I will leave a trail.”
I wish I’d known that: I would choose to pursue an academic career and so could have taken a more direct route to get to where I am today. But on the other hand, I am a firm believer that it is the journey which makes you who you are.
Words of wisdom
If research is what you are passionate about, do everything you can to pursue it because even if it seems a steep mountain to climb, it is worth every step. Every so often, take time to reflect and assess where you are and to think about what you can do to achieve your next goal.
I have two years left of my postdoc, during which I will be looking to further develop as an independent researcher. I will start applying for research fellowships so I can take forward BoneFinder, both in developing the technical side and also exploring its other possible clinical applications.
Personal webpage on the University of Manchester website
BoneFinder case study in Outputs, outcomes and impact of MRC research 2014/15 report