Imogen Cowley - Winner of The Telegraph UK STEM Awards 2018

17 September 2018

Imogen Cowley recently won The Telegraph UK STEM Awards with her idea “SnapVaccine”, after entering the GSK-sponsored Healthcare Challenge to explore new ideas to help prevent or treat childhood pneumonia in developing countries.

Following her award, she completed a four-week summer internship at GSK in Research & Development Device Engineering. We chatted to Imogen about her placement.


Can you give some basic background on your journey to your degree?

At GCSE, maths and sciences were the subjects I enjoyed the most. I had excellent teachers for maths and physics in particular, who encouraged thinking beyond the curriculum and fostered genuine excitement about the topics we studied. I went on to take Maths, Further Maths, Physics, and Chemistry at A level. During my last year of school, I knew I wanted to continue using maths, but didn’t want to study it on its own. Engineering seemed like a perfect combination of maths, physics, and practical problem solving.

I wasn’t sure which kind of engineering I wanted to do, but the Engineering Science course at Oxford starts broad, and specialises in 3rd and 4th year, giving me a chance to get a general engineering background whilst working out which discipline I preferred. I graduated in July this year, having specialised in a mix of Biomedical and Mechanical engineering.


What did you do during your internship at GSK?

I was based with the Device Engineering team in Ware and spent most of my time learning about autoinjectors. I used MATLAB to write mathematical model scripts for some of a particular device’s mechanical features. I’d learned MATLAB as part of my degree, so it was great to get to use these skills in a real-world context. I also got to visit other parts of GSK, including the Ellipta inhaler manufacturing site, and GSK’s vaccines site in Wavre, so I got a great overview of several different parts of the company.


Was working in Research & Development Device Engineering what you thought it would be?

It was actually very close to what I expected! Although I was pleasantly surprised at how just applicable some of the skills I’d learned at university were in a pharmaceutical setting. Biomedical engineering straddles multiple disciplines, which I love.


What did you learn about a career in Device Engineering?

Before starting, I was keen to know how a medical device begins life, and what happens to turn a concept into a product. I learned about what goes on day to day in the development of new device products, and I learned a lot about what sorts of things need to be considered in device engineering, from intricate details in the manufacturing processes, through to patient compliance. I also learned about the importance of inter-disciplinary communication, and the value of sharing ideas and expertise.


What are the benefits of completing an internship?

An internship gives you a great insight into what a particular career path will be like, so they’re really useful for making more informed decisions about what career will be a good fit. Doing internships whilst studying also provides a bridge between academic learning and STEM as a profession; knowing how theoretical concepts are actually used makes them more engaging. Thirdly, internships are a good way of showing future employers where your interests lie and can help demonstrate an ability to translate academic skills to industry.


What's next for you?

In October, I’ll be starting the Analyst Consulting grad scheme at Accenture. Whilst it’s not an engineering role, it’s a company with a big focus on technology. Engineering gives you a lot of transferrable skills, and I’m excited to use them to tackle new challenges.


Do you have any advice for anyone reading this?

Curiosity is an important tool for developing STEM talent. Teachers can lead by example, and my best teachers at school were always the ones who would endeavour to answer questions beyond the curriculum; even if they had to find out the answer themselves first. For students; ask questions! Whether to teachers or colleagues or the internet, you can learn a huge amount by asking questions, and question-asking is a valuable skill. The more you do it, the better you become at finding the right questions to ask, and at finding the best ways to arrive at answers.


To learn more about internship opportunities at GSK, click here.