Maisie Keogh

STEM Equals Profiles - Maisie Keogh

Tell us a little bit about you:

My name is Maisie Keogh, I identify as female and my pronouns are, she, her and hers. I am a doctoral researcher in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Strathclyde. I studied in the department last year, graduating in November with an MSc in Biofluid Mechanics and prior to that, I undertook a BSc in Chemistry at the University of Glasgow, so I know the scientific community in Glasgow incredibly well! I love communicating the areas of STEM that I am passionate about and over the past three years I have written several articles for The Glasgow Insight into Science and Technology (theGIST), an amazing student-run magazine. I am also an NHS Volunteer and have been working at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital for around six months, mostly in the stroke and stroke rehabilitation wards. I spend time chatting and getting to know the patients and helping them to focus on their recovery, something I immensely enjoy. When I’m not writing or talking about science, I am most likely to be found drinking coffee and reading a good book or trying to keep up with the fantastic personal trainers at Strathclyde Sport.

What is your area of research and what project(s) are you working on now?

Biomedical Engineering is a vast discipline; however, my area of focus is on rehabilitation science and helping to develop innovative technologies aimed at improving the effectiveness of rehabilitation techniques in stroke patients, amputees and children with cerebral palsy. Having the opportunity to work directly with patients in my role at the hospital has been invaluable in helping me to understand the needs of these groups and it has complemented well the practical aspects on my work. Recently, this has involved assisting in the development of a fusion of camera data and inertial measurement units (IMUs) to aid in the study of human motion capture. This will allow for a more comprehensive biomechanical model of the human body in motion to be obtained. This ultimately translates into us being able to provide accurate visual feedback to patients in real-time helping them to improve their functional gait and offering them a more tailored rehabilitation plan, personalised to their individual needs.

When was your interest in STEM/your field first sparked and why?

I grew up in a pretty rural area of Scotland and so a huge focus of my primary education was being outdoors and studying science and nature. Having this freedom to explore, being encouraged to work and play independently and to ask questions was what first sparked my interest in STEM and helped me to find my passion. I was always interested in physics and I spent a lot of time when I was younger studying it. There was also a lot of medical textbooks in my house when I was growing up and so reading these really cultivated my appreciation of the subject, so it’s interesting that I have managed to find myself in the field of biomedical engineering which combines the two subjects incredibly well! I was exceptionally lucky that I had space to really engage with science subjects and had the resources to learn more about the disciplines that interested me. It has definitely played a key role in helping me get where I am today.

Who or what inspired you to stick with STEM when you were younger?

The primary school that I attended was tiny and so I was incredibly fortunate that I managed to get a lot of individual time with the teachers who could see that I had a real passion for science and maths and so they gave me the freedom, flexibility and time to pursue these at perhaps the expense of other subjects (my grammar now is atrocious!). Having this early encouragement from supportive and inspiring females has been instrumental to me not just following a path into STEM but remaining firmly on it.

What challenges do you think STEM disciplines face with regards to issues of diversity and inclusion and what should a supportive, inclusive STEM community look like?

I think that even I, having spent my entire life studying STEM, is guilty sometimes of still picturing an old, white man in a lab coat with eccentric hair when asked to picture a scientist. This is the default image that a lot of people generate in their heads in response to that question, but it is so wholly unrepresentative of the amazingly diverse number of scientists and engineers that we have in academia and industry today. A truly diverse and inclusive scientific community is one that celebrates and supports all of its members and their identities. We need to focus on highlighting these individuals, making them visible and promoting a culture where diversity is the norm and inclusion isn’t just an ideal that we are working towards, but it’s recognised as a basic right for absolutely everyone but especially for those are at risk of being marginalised. I firmly believe that working in a diverse team leads to better research being carried out and that doesn’t just benefit scientists and their disciplines, it benefits everyone!

In your career, what are the moments that have made you proudest so far?

My dream has always been to be able to help people and volunteering gives me a way to make a genuine difference and to directly see the impact of my efforts. I am incredibly proud to be able to work with the NHS and I have thoroughly enjoyed all of the time I have spent with the patients in helping them in their recovery process and with the staff, supporting them in their roles. Carrying out this work means that I can return to my research and pursue it with real clarity - I know exactly who I am working for and how I can help them best. However, it isn’t just the big moments that I am proud of, it’s also the little victories. Sometimes I am proud just to have made it through a challenging day, getting through a tough piece of writing or helping other students with their studies – these are occasions to celebrate too!

Since STEM career paths are rarely easy to navigate, what challenges have you faced along the way?

STEM career paths can be convoluted and at times I have found it challenging to navigate them. I think that sometimes it is not a lack of information that is the issue, it is that there is a lot of it and it’s trying to distil that down and find what is relevant to get you where you want to be that can be difficult. I believe that one of the most valuable things you can do to help guide your decisions about your career path is to research your area of interest thoroughly. Speak to potential supervisors, course leaders, those who have completed the degree that you’re interested in or those who work in the job that you are aiming for. One of the best things about having a STEM degree is that it is highly sought-after and applicable to so many industries even those unrelated to STEM, giving you the freedom to work in multidisciplinary environments and learn from individuals with diverse skillsets.

Where do you find support to sustain you in your current career?

My supervisor at the start of my course told me that working your way through a PhD is a journey that is unique to you and so the needs you have and the challenges you face won’t be exactly the same as others so there is absolutely no point in comparing yourself to anyone else! Since I began my degree, I have really tried to build up my own support network and community of other researchers, post-docs, staff and students, each of which encourages me enormously to continue to do my research, build my confidence and push me to achieve. Being part of societies and groups both on and off-campus has also been invaluable to me. They have allowed me to meet future collaborators and make really good friends, all of which contribute to helping me extend my support network even further. Additionally, at the PhD level, the main focus is on carrying out independent research and this can sometimes be a lonely process, but research is also about collaboration and working with others, so I would say, look out not just for who can offer you support but who you can offer support to – be a mentor.

What advice would you give to a young person considering a career in STEM?

I would encourage all young people to consider a career in STEM. There are just so many possibilities! Science and technology are vital to our future and the people who are going to be making the great advances and driving new discoveries are those who are in school today. There is so much to explore whether you are interested in space and astronomy, computers and programming or, like me, you want to help improve the lives of patients living with disabilities using technology, the scientific universe is so vast that there will be a corner of it where you can find your passion. One of the key pieces of advice that I would offer someone interested in pursuing a STEM career would be to look for ways to distinguish yourself. Build up relevant skills both inside and outside of the classroom. One example of this is would be a website called Future Learn which offers free courses on a wide range of subjects delivered by Universities all over the world. Explore societies and charities associated with the subject you are interested in - it’s an amazing way to build up a network – Volunteer Glasgow is a great resource for this.

Fun question: Tell us two truths and a lie about you.

a) I used to have a horse called Truffles. b) I once won the silver prize at a national maths competition when I was 11. c) I was once shortlisted by Scottish Enterprise for coming up with a technologically innovative way to improve Scotland’s international trade links.