60 Seconds with Amy Elliott

Amy is a Research Assistant in the Radiation Biophysics Core.

In this interview she explains her role and the reasons why she enjoys getting involved with Public Engagement events. 


Tell us a little about your role

I am part of the Radiation Biophysics core group led by Dr Mark Hill.  The group is responsible for radiation resources within the Department of Oncology and we are also constantly developing improved techniques for their dosimetry. Additionally, we provide expertise for projects within the Department and collaborations from external research facilities. Our work includes techniques for basic cell irradiations, support and development of a SARRP image guided pre-clinical x-ray irradiator and novel radiation sources.

Why does your work matter?

Over 40% of all cancer patients have radiotherapy as part of their treatment. Therefore, the main focus of our research involves understanding why and how ionising radiation initiates such a diverse range of biological responses.

A significant number of the groups in Oncology research require frequent radiation doses for their cell-based research. Our group provides accurate dosimetry on the radiation facilities, which ensures the cells get the correct dose each time. We also design complex shielding rigs tailored to each experiment’s requirements.

Outside of cancer research we have worked on projects such as stem cell research in planarian worms (Aboobaker lab) and irradiations of solid state materials.

I am responsible for the monthly radiation safety checks on all of our equipment. This ensures it is safe for researchers to use, and we can record and report any faults and dose rates for each radiation resource.

How did you get to where you are today? What support from others have you particularly valued?

I read Physics at Warwick University, where I completed a four-year integrated master’s degree. During which time I attended a lecture on medical physics and was encouraged to apply for a research project at Coventry hospital. During this project I realised that I was more interested in the radiation protection side of the project rather than the data collation. When I started my post here, Mark Hill immediately noticed my interest in radiation protection and set about giving me more responsibility in that field. He suggested talks for me to go to and courses to apply for, and as a result I have my career set on becoming a radiation protection advisor in a few years time.

So far in 2018, you have done many Public Engagement events including; d'Overbroeck's College, Teach First and Girls for Physics. Why do you get involved in Public Engagement?

It always surprises me how many people don’t actually know what physics is, let alone the significant contribution it makes towards medical research. When you say the word ‘radiation’ all people seem to think of are nuclear explosions and ask if I am radioactive or glow green. I really enjoy correcting these misconceptions and introducing people to the vast subject that physics is. Most members of the public I speak to seem to think they can’t learn about science because they didn’t do a degree, or they weren’t good at it at school.

I was incredibly lucky to have so much support and encouragement from my parents and teachers to pursue a career in physics. However, I am all too aware that lots of children, particularly girls, do not have this advantage. So, I do all I can at public engagement events for school children to show them the range of careers in science and boost their confidence in science and mathematics.

What’s life like outside work and if you weren’t a Research Assistant, what would you like to be doing?    

My hobbies are climbing and sailing. When I am not in work I can be found up a climbing wall or out on the water. I thoroughly enjoy working so close to a good climbing wall and I have roped all of my housemates into climbing with me. If I wasn’t working where I am now, I’d like to think would be crewing racing yachts around the world.

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