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Lindsey Dew is a PhD student in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering. Her work specifically looks at skin tissue engineering. Here she talks about tissue engineering, how she got into this exciting field and why women need to know what engineering actually involves in order to increase female representation within the profession.

“young women don’t really know what engineers do and getting the message to students at a younger age may really help get more women into the profession.”

What is tissue engineering?
Tissue engineering is an emerging field that combines the knowledge of scientists, engineers and clinicians to try and replace or restore damaged tissues within a patient. Tissue engineering research here at Sheffield is making great strides towards the development of replacements for skin, cartilage, nerve, cornea and bone, to name but a few. As a result there have already been two skin repair products that have been created from this research that have gone on to help patients.

When did this all start? 
Tissue engineering is a relatively new field that really took off in the 1980’s and since then has grown in popularity around the world. Due to its age there is still massive scope to discover new things and advance the field even further.

How did you get into such an area?
My route into tissue engineering is a slightly convoluted one. I started out doing a degree in pure mechanical engineering at the University of Cambridge before heading off to work in the power generation sector. Although a worthwhile industry, after a year it just didn’t feel right and I knew I wanted a different challenge but didn’t quite know what. Then I saw a news article on the TV talking about how tissue engineers had made a new windpipe for a lady suffering from lung disease using a donor windpipe, the patient’s own stem cells and a specially designed chamber known as a bioreactor. No current medical treatments had worked and this option was her last resort – and it was successful! All I could think was ‘wow I want to do that’. So I had a look online and to my astonishment found a PhD course that enabled people from all backgrounds ranging from engineering to computer science to research different areas of tissue engineering. I applied and within months had moved to a different part of the country to start my research.

Nearly two years on I am really enjoying my work and life in Sheffield. I get to use what I have learnt from Mechanical Engineering in combination with new knowledge I am constantly gaining in biology and the life sciences to try and help improve people’s lives.

What is it like being a woman in engineering?
It’s great! I can honestly say that I have never felt out of place being a woman in a male dominated industry. To me it is a myth that it is not as easy as it is for men to join the engineering community. I think the main problem is that young women don’t really know what engineers do and getting the message to students at a younger age may really help get more women into the profession.

Overall, engineering is a great way to apply science and maths to real life problems that really make a difference to society. It is a profession that is open to males and females alike and the only way to redress the gender imbalance is to make women aware of what engineering is really all about!

Written by Lindsey Dew, Women in Engineering Outreach Office
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