As a PhD student soon to enter my third year, I’m bracing myself for the ‘so, what’s next’ questions which are going start rolling in. In some ways, the answer to this question is easy. For me, it’s got to be something to do with health, and something to do with data. Thing is, we’re in an awesome place right now where working with data in healthcare could lead you down an ever-expanding number of career paths, based anywhere from academic institutions, to start-ups, to global pharmaceutical companies. This is why I was particularly excited for One HealthTech Scotland’s most recent event, in which five healthtech superstars shared their career experiences from five very different angles.
To kick off the evening we heard from Linda Cairney and Stafford Burt, both from Oracle, sponsors of OHT and without whom this event would not have been possible. Linda, Public Sector Sales Director for the UK & Ireland, shared her experiences of looking for new jobs, and the recruitment process which she went through with Oracle just the previous year. Linda had some great tips for LinkedIn, and reminded us that in most cases these days your CV will be shortlisted by computers, not humans (so make sure you hit all the right key words)! Linda’s take home message was that the recruitment process is as much a chance for you to suss out the company as it is the other way around!
Next we heard from Stafford, who had an infectious passion for innovation and technology. Stafford, Solution Consultant at Oracle, spoke about how data and AI can be used to challenge our assumptions in strategic workforce planning. Stafford focused on accessibility, and the need to ensure that office locations and working hours do not reduce the diversity of the workforce.
Our keynote speaker, Christopher Wroath, started his presentation with a picture of himself as a young man, who at the time had no interest in health or technology. Over the next half hour we were taken on an entertaining journey through Christopher’s career, starting out as a developer at the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys, and working his way up through various public sector organisations.
Christopher spoke openly about finding himself unexpectedly in the job market in 2013, receiving little interest from recruiters despite his wealth of experience in IT. However, something as simple as “finding-and-replacing” ‘IT’ for ‘digital’ in his applications generated interest which led to his current role as Director of Digital for NHS Education for Scotland, a role created to ‘shake things up’ in the organisation. The ‘find-and-replace’ story made me think about all those times in the past few years that I’ve said the words ‘I’m a data scientist’ to avoid the inevitable yawns that follow ‘I’m a statistician’! (Please tell me I’m not the only one!)
Our final speakers were two Edinburgh-based start-up healthtech superstars: Debbie Wake and Claudia Freigang. Both have co-founded start-ups which are racking up impressive collections of awards from funders such as Scottish Enterprise, Scottish EDGE and Innovate UK. Both also spoke honestly about the struggles faced by early start-ups, and the massive amount of commitment and drive that it takes to achieve these successes.
While Debbie and Claudia both share a background in academia, their individual career paths have been very different: Debbie is a clinical Diabetes Consultant but never felt quite right in her role as ‘just’ being an academic or clinician. Throughout her career she’s been strongly involved in public outreach and education, talking about health in a UK-first medical podcast “Dr Pods Healthcast” as well as in her role as resident doctor on the Scottish TV show “The Hour” and as health columnist for “The Scotsman”. Her personal career break-through came when she became the CEO of MyWay Digital Health, a University of Dundee spin out that came about as a result of the highly successful MyDiabetesMyWay diabetes self-care portal which was developed by Debbie and her UoD colleagues. She finally feels she’s found her dream career as being in charge of a start-up has allowed her to fully live out her talents, combine her various interests and achieve impact at scale, for which she has received a large number of awards and recognition.
Claudia, on the other hand, is a typical academic: after having completed a PhD in auditory neuroscience at the University of Leipzig (Germany), she’s embarked on a classic four-year post-doc journey working at internationally renowned research institutes around the world (Germany, UK, Canada). The reason she chose to leave academia and to found the start-up Hearing Diagnostics together with her husband (also an academic with a background in computing science) was entirely driven by the desire to help improve the lives of individuals with hearing loss. Realising that making a tangible impact to society would be more likely outside the realm of academia, they founded a company. Founding and growing a company from scratch only based on an idea has been very challenging but also exceptionally rewarding. Claudia’s company has hugely benefited from the OHT Scotland community. It was though an OHT event in 2018 that she connected with the Caldicott guardian from NHS Lothian, and this connection has now become an official collaboration!
Hearing the speakers talk about their current roles with such enthusiasm really made me feel they’d landed their dream careers in healthtech, a sector that either didn’t exist or was in its infancy when they started out. I found this reassuring – healthtech is a field that is growing and developing so rapidly that my ‘dream job’ might not even exist yet. The speakers demonstrated that careers take non-linear paths, and that focusing one step at a time on things that you are interested and passionate about is the best way to navigate your ‘dream career’.
And on that note: PhD year three – I’m ready for you!
Elsie Horne is a medical statistician by background and is currently a PhD student at the University of Edinburgh. Her project involves identifying subgroups of asthma patients by applying unsupervised machine learning methods to data from health records.
You can tell her how much you liked her blog by tweeting her at @ElsieHorne