Alice Iles - 2022 SPIE Women in Optics Planner
Zepler Institute for Photonics and Nanoelectronics, University of Southampton, UK
SPIE Student Member
Born in the UK
I knew from a young age that I wanted to do something to make a difference in medical science. I have always been fascinated by how things work and desperate to feed my curious mind, ever since my parents bought me my first microscope. At school my favorite subject was biology and I knew I needed to pursue further education in something that would give me a foundation for a career in science. I was lucky enough to get some work experience in a hospital laboratory and was fascinated by the inner workings of the human body and how they were affected by disease. This led to my choice of biomedical science as my undergraduate degree.
I am currently working towards my doctorate where I am developing point-of-care tests for rapid diagnosis and disease monitoring. I am involved in both the laboratory development process and the validation of such tests with human samples.
Finishing my undergraduate degree, I was offered a position on a prestigious graduate scheme at a multinational medical equipment manufacturing company. I was reluctant to accept it as I realized this would not fulfil my passion for scientific research and so began applying for PhD positions. I didn’t realize how competitive the PhD market was and how much experience other people had. Despite being shortlisted for many interviews I was always ‘pipped to the post.’ After all my hard work I was knocked back by the rejection. More determined than ever, I kept pushing forward and with the help of my friends and family I didn’t give up. I was introduced to a researcher at the University of Southampton who was doing some interesting work developing point-of-care tests for tuberculosis. As tuberculosis had been the focus of my final year project, I had a keen interest in this area. They saw the benefit of bringing my knowledge in bacteriology to the team in physics and engineering and so we proposed a PhD project.
It will not be easy, and it will not always go to plan but if you want it badly enough then it is worth fighting for. As Henry Ford said: “Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right.”
Never be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone, don’t worry about what everyone else is doing, focus on what brings you joy. Ask questions at every opportunity and look for inspiration in the most unlikely places. You’re a dreamer, you’re an inventor, you’re a scientist—these have no gender.