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Research Fellow: Bindi Brook


Dr Bindi Brook

Current job

Research Fellow and part-time lecturer in the School of Mathematical Sciences, University of Nottingham

Length of career

17 years (including a four-year career break to look after children)

Key quote

“There are very few jobs in the world that people can honestly say they love doing. But being a researcher is one of them.”

Career in brief

After my undergraduate degree in maths, I did a PhD in applied maths at the University of Leeds. Due to personal circumstances, I then left academia for six months and worked for a credit card company, which I hated! I then took a two-year postdoc position in medical physics at the University of Sheffield, followed by a three-year postdoc position. It was then that I had my first child, so I took a year out before deciding to take a part-time teaching position at the University of Nottingham.

I taught for three or four years during which time I had my second daughter. I had been out of research for four or five years and it was at that point I decided that academia really was for me. I think it was being in the university setting that reminded me of that. So I successfully applied for a Daphne Jackson fellowship sponsored by the MRC, which opened up the doors for me to apply for my MRC New Investigator Research Grant (NIRG), both of which I have done part-time. And I have now achieved tenure — my first MRC research grant began in January 2015.  

I spend my days

The flexibility of my research allows me to work from home so I make sure that I schedule meetings with my collaborators and students on the days I am at university. In term time, these days also obviously involve teaching and all of the associated paperwork! During my days at home I am then able to concentrate on my own research work without too many distractions. I am currently developing mathematical models to look at the role of airway smooth muscle in people with asthma. I am also using mathematical modelling to understand how the airways of asthmatics undergo remodelling — the process by which their airways become thicker and contract more over time. I work with experimental scientists who use these models in their research.

Career highlights

The first was being awarded my NIRG; that was the decider as to whether I stayed in academia or left to pursue something else. The second was getting tenure — I’d worked so hard and felt that my hard work had paid off.

Biggest challenges

The biggest challenge has been trying to combine a home-life involving children with a research career. I’m lucky in that I had my parents living close by and so they were able to help out with school drop-offs etc. But ultimately it was a case of figuring things out as I went along. A colleague, Professor Helen Byrne, (now at the University of Oxford) who acted as an informal mentor, was very supportive in suggesting working strategies to help me achieve a good balance.

I wish I’d known that

It would be much tougher to get an academic career started after having children than having children after getting more established. I’m not saying that it would have changed the path I took, but it might have made it a bit easier!

Skills I need to do my job

Aside from the academic skills, I would have to say that good communication is important in my work — getting the message to experimental scientists and clinicians about how they can best use my research. And learning to work collaboratively, particularly being open to discussions with researchers in different disciplines and understanding how you can work together. 

I am inspired by

My PhD supervisor Tim Pedley (Professor of applied mathematics and theoretical physics at the University of Cambridge). He is an amazing scientist as well as being a great teacher. He really inspired me to do my best and introduced me to the areas of research I now work in.

Words of wisdom

Research can be pretty tough. While it may seem easier to give up at certain points, if you really enjoy what you do, do whatever it takes to stick with it. The rewards are amazing.

Next steps

I am excited to have just started work on my big grant. This involves managing a multidisciplinary team, working with both mathematicians and experimental clinicians. I am looking forward to trying new things in teaching, using my own research more to hopefully inspire students to go into this research area.

Further information

Interview with Bindi about being a woman in mathematics

Workshop bringing together experimental biologists and mathematicians

Getting back into research after a career break

MRC guidance on career breaks and flexible working (PDF, 40KB)

Correct as of: March 2015