I went to East Ardlsley Primary School and Woodkirk High School in Yorkshire, then I went to Durham University, did half a PhD at Glasgow University (thats before I found Medical physics) then I did a masters at King's College London as part of my training in the NHS.
GCSEs: 5 A*, 4 A, 1 B A levels: Maths, Physics, Chemistry and Further Maths and As level Biology. Masters in theoretical physics, Masters in medical physics.
ASDA, climbing instructor, post grad theoetical physics, assistant medical physicist, trainee clinical scientist
Happy medical physicist who lives on a boat!
I live on a pair of narrowboats with my partner. In my free time I enjoy cycling, hiking and sitting by the fire with a good book! I love to travel and experience new places, things and particularly food! I enjoy comedy but I’m not a fan of scary things and I like using exclamation marks much more often than I should!
How I Use Maths In My Job:
I’m a medical physicist working in radiotherapy. This basically means treating cancer using high energy x-rays (radiation) to kill tumour cells whilst trying not to damage healthy cells. Maths is the language of physics so we use maths every day! We calculate the dose of radiation we need to give patients to treat their cancer. This often involves decimals, fractions and percentages. Statistics are also important. The amount of radiation needed to kill tumours is not the same for everyone, so we have to know the probability that we’ll see the outcome we want to see.
I do a lot of measurements on our equipment to check it is working as we expect, and we have to analyse the results. The radiation a patient receives from x-rays also depends on the geometry of the machine and the patient, so I do actually use all the trigonometry triangle stuff you learn at school and everyone thinks is pointless! Pretty much every day I’m using the maths I learnt at school from learning to count in reception right up to degree level!
Medical physicist: killing cancer with x-rays!
I work in a radiotherapy department, in a cancer centre in the NHS. Radiotherapy is using high energy x-rays to kill cancer. When I was a trainee I helped make a video about what we do. Watch it here!
My job is fairly varied so week to week I’ll be doing different things but the main areas are:
- Treatment planning: using CT scans of the patient (pictures of their insides) the doctors tell us where the cancer is and what dose they want it to get. They also tell us where the healthy organs are that they don’t want to get damaged and we work out how to get the dose to the tumour whilst sparing the healthy bits as much as possible.
- Quality Assurance: we do a lot of testing of our treatment machines (linear accelerators), scanners (CT scanner, MRI scanner and Ultrasound scanners) and computers to make sure everything is working as it should. We can deliver the treatment to within millimetre accuracy (we can shape it around things like the spinal cord) so its very important that we know where the patient is and where the radiation is going at all times.
- Brachytherapy: This involves treating cancer from inside out! We have theatre sessions where we put radioactive sources inside tumours to treat them without having to send x-rays through the body to reach the tumour.
- Radiation protection: While radiation (x-rays) can help cure cancer it can also cause cancer so we have to make sure we are doing everything safely. We monitor areas to make sure radiation levels are low enough and some times have to calculate the amount of shielding required to make a room safe. We also train other staff (like radiographers) so they are safe working in these areas.
- Development work: Radiotherapy uses cutting edge technology and is changing all the time. Sometimes we get to work on the very new stuff being developed and often we are helping to bring new techniques and technology into the hospital.
- Clinical Trials: I also work in the national radiotherapy trials quality assurance team, here we make sure that hospitals joining a trial do the radiotherapy well enough to join the trial. This means I get to talk to other physicists, radiographers and doctors in hospitals all round the world. Most recently in Florida, Brisbane, Germany, France and Canada!
My Typical Day
This is hard because it varies a lot! I cycle to work and usually start about 9.30 (I don't like mornings) I will either be on computers or playing with machines all day and then I'll leave around 6.30ish
My day varies a lot depending where I am on the rota.
A typical planning day:
- Arrive by 10am (I don’t like getting up early if I don’t have to!),
- plan 1-3 patients depending on how hard the plan is (this is done on the computer) or check other peoples plans (every plan is checked independently twice to make sure it is the best it can be)
- Help with any problems that come up during the day. This might be helping other planners with difficult plans or to do with patients on treatment.
- Leave around 6pm (having had lunch when ever I got hungry!)
A typical brachytherapy day:
- Arrive 7.45am
- Help the doctor in theatre by telling them where to put needles (to put a radioactive source down later) or where to put radioactive sources directly (it depends on the type of treatment).
- Make plans for the patients that had needles put in
- Treat the patients
- Leave once all the patients are treated (this can be a long day sometimes but we only do it a few days in a week so we can come in late or leave early on another day).
A typical Quality Assurance (QA) day:
- Arrive 9ish
- Do tests on the machine all day
- If we find something out of tolerance/broken we ask the engineers to fix it and then test it again.
- Do any patient specific QA that needs doing – all the complex plans get tested on the machine using a phantom (block of plastic with detectors in) before we treat the patient to make sure it is right.
The department is very flexible which I like. We treat patients from 8am until 8pm so someone needs to be around the whole time but there are around 30 people in the physics department so it usually works out that someone wanted to stay late or arrive early so we don’t have to do it very often unless we want to. Being in such a large department is great fun because there are always people to chat to and bounce ideas off!
What I'd do with the prize money
I'm not sure I have the time to use it to its full...feel free to give it to someone else with a really good idea!
What or who inspired you to follow your career?
I have always loved maths and physics but it took me a long time to realise I also like to help people and feel I'm contributing to society, thats when I started looking at medical physics and I haven't looked back!
What's your favourite use for maths in everyday life?
Buying food! :D
What did you think about Maths when you were in school?
I enjoyed it.
What did you want to be after you left school?
When I was in year 1 I wanted to be a fairy! By year 5 that changed to achaeologist then in sceondary school that became a physicist but I didn't know what type.
Were you ever in trouble at school?
Sometimes...mainly for talking.
If you weren't doing this job, what would you choose instead?
I honestly think I've found my perfect job! It took me a while but I wouldn't want to do anything else. If I could work less I would like to learn to weld and would like to spend more time outside maybe helping with an allotment or managing a woodland!
Who is your favourite singer or band?
What's your favourite food?
Curry (Anything with bindi or saag paneer are my fave!)
What is the most fun thing you've done?
I've had some pretty fun climbing trips and I spent 8 weeks in India as part of my training which was great fun!
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
More time, to be able to eat lots of cholocolate without feeling ill and to live nearer to hills.
Tell us a joke.
Your mum. :p