Mark Howard

Mark completed his doctorate in cell biology. He then undertook four to five years of postdoctoral work before moving into industry to work for Smith & Nephew in York. There he was taken on as a cell biologist, and is now a team leader.

The following text is a transcription of a career story collected by interview.

"My name is Mark Howard and I am a team leader at Smith & Nephew, based in York. So my work is the early stage of product development with the medical devices that we use every day. My role is the creation of and the generation of those ideas through to prototypes really for clinical trials. I did a degree in biochemistry which really opened up an awful lot of information to me, and then I did a PhD in cell biology that allowed me to kind of progress that thinking around cell biology and find out more, stuff that no one had ever seen before, and I found that great.  I then did four or five years postdoctoral work and then moved to Smith & Nephew.

"When I was in academia I had a great time, I really liked working in academia and the flexible hours and I worked really hard. A PhD is the line at which you all of a sudden have all these choices that only you can make and it's you that finds these things out, there's nowhere to go, there's no text book that tells you, and that's very exciting. I was hired as a cell biologist, so the techniques that I learnt during my PHD and my postdoc were all lab-based, and they translated to a number of, a number of areas within cell biology and the work that I went for with stem cells, however, I would say that there are a lot of translatable skills, soft skills that I learnt during my PhD that were really useful. In my interviews I had to give a presentation and prior to my PhD I would have really struggled with that. I learnt a lot of soft skills during my PhD that translated beautifully into industrial life, and I think it was those two facets that got me the job.

"My postdoctoral supervisor, Professor John Quinn, again at Liverpool University, the one thing he taught me was that, he'll not thank me for saying this, but you don't have to be the best scientist to do the best science, there's a lot of weight on being able to collaborate and network and interact with the right people at the right time, and he was an absolute expert at calling on people, he was a really sociable, affable guy and people would come to him and ask for help and he would say, ‘Oh you need to talk to such and such or you need to talk to such and such,' and they would all work with him and he was really well respected, he's really made some incredible progress by being able to pick the right person to work with to help him get to where he needs to be, and that was a really important learning point for me, especially in industry where it is about collaboration and networking. There are a variety of talents that can contribute that you wouldn't necessarily have thought, I mean with some of their cell-based therapies that I have worked on and developed we were getting input from engineers and physicists, from clinicians, from regulatory experts, from patent attorneys – and all these people, some science-based and a lot not, contributed to the success of this scientific concept through to a product.

"I've been with Smith & Nephew four or five years and loved every minute, minute of it. But I'm at a point now I think where there's a choice. If I stay in industry it is gong to be very difficult for me to move back in academia ‘cause I will just have been away too long. So I think this next year or two I'm weighing up my options. I still have lots of choices, I'm still relatively young I like to think, so I could go back to academia, and I would really consider it if the right opportunity came along, but I'm very happy doing the work that I do. I would say if I did go back to academia the lessons I have learnt in industry in applying really relevant questions to answering solutions, not just kind of going around in circles, but having a real long hard look at the question and if it takes two things to do it as opposed to six, I'll do the two things. And if I do go back to academia, I am going to take that, that, that leaning with me and I think it will make me a better academic."