Olivia Johnson-Love

See Yourself in STEM - Olivia Johnson-Love

Tell us a little bit about you:

I have just started my PhD at the University of Strathclyde, after finishing my Master’s. I love science, having originally studied Physics with Astrophysics as my undergraduate degree, and I am now researching in the field of Biomedical Engineering! I’m an avid cook and love baking. I spend a lot of my free time reading, everything from science fiction to romance, travel books to physics tomes – I’m never without a book in my bag! I also love to dance and have been dancing since I was two years old!

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

I work in stem cell engineering, specifically looking at ‘nanokicking’ stem cells. This involves vibrating stem cells at tiny (nanometer) amplitudes and high frequencies to induce them to differentiate into specific cell types. My research is looking into optimizing the current set up by identifying the optimal vibration conditions and investigating the different cell responses produced. I’m also working on projects looking at the scale-up of this technology to make it more applicable for a clinical setting.

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

I have always loved science! When I was a young girl, I began to develop a real passion for astronomy. I became a member of an astronomical society and craved more knowledge on the subject, reading books, attending talks and getting involved in conventions. This led me on to applying for an undergraduate in Physics with Astrophysics at Glasgow University. During my undergraduate, I began to become more interested in other sciences, particularly biology. I became intrigued by the idea of multidisciplinary work, especially the applications of physics and technology in medicine. It was from here that I applied to Strathclyde to study a masters in Biomedical Engineering. This, it turns out, was my true calling. I was fascinated by the numerous applications of technology in medicine, particularly in the applications within cell biology and regenerative medicine. Finally, this brought me to doing my PhD in stem cell engineering, which incorporates physics, technology and biology, and is the perfect project for me! I am still reading astronomy and physics books, but now I’m also learning and reading about all the other sciences too!

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

My father is a huge role model in my life. Although neither he nor my mother attended university, they have both been extremely supportive and have encouraged me to follow whichever path in life I wish. In fact, it is through me that my Dad now has such a passion for science himself. We both often attend science talks together and are always swapping science books and journals and discussing the latest scientific discoveries!

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?

Diversity and inclusion are vital in all aspects of society and especially within STEM disciplines. Ensuring that all voices are heard and that STEM encompasses all types of people from all areas of society is crucial in ensuring maximum innovation and prosperity. Education and the spread of knowledge is the key to reducing issues with diversity and discrimination and is vital to an inclusive STEM community.

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

The day I found out I would be doing a PhD was by far the proudest moment of my career. I have dreamed of doing a PhD all my life and finally finding out I would be doing one and could one day add ‘Dr’ to my name has been the biggest achievement of my life so far.

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

Confidence in my ability has been something I have found difficult at times. I have in the past struggled with imposter syndrome, as so many others in academia have. However, I have managed to work through this, and I now feel much more confident in my ability as a researcher. Now, whenever I come across something that is new, I am confident that I will be able to learn and develop any new skills. This was something I had to deal with during my masters and as I started my PhD (I had little to no knowledge of cell biology, I hadn’t even studied it in school!). I have a fantastic support network around me, and although I am still learning (as we all do), I’m feeling more confident every day.

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

My parents are hugely supportive of what I do, and I have a fantastic support group of friends. I also have a wonderful supervisor and others in my research group who are very supportive of myself and my work.

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

Don’t be worried that you aren’t good enough. Hard work, dedication and enthusiasm will help you to succeed in life and will help you with any career you choose! STEM is also so much more than sticking to one discipline and riding that out forever. It is so much more about expanding your horizons and getting involved, you will be surprised at where you end up!

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

a) I wrote an article for a popular astronomy magazine. b) I featured on the BBC quiz show Pointless. c) I used to teach hip hop dance classes.