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Spotlight on... Dr Brenda Parker

19 April 2016

brenda-parker

Questions for ‘Featured Engineer’ profile in a future issue of the Woman Engineer

Where do you live?
London
What is your current role and who do you work for?

Lecturer in Biochemical Engineering at UCL
How did you get into the job – and what were you doing for work beforehand?

I started out as an undergraduate here in Biochemical Engineering. Before my current role I was working as a postdoctoral researcher in the Algal Biotechnology Consortium at the University of Cambridge, then as a researcher on an EU project about algae. I was deciding on my next career move when the job advert came up. A friend who works here sent me an email saying “time to come home”!
What does a typical day involve?
A typical day involves changing gear many times. For instance today I’m interviewing for a postdoc on a project about Nature-Inspired Engineering, organising a weekend workshop on design and biotechnology, conducting a first year viva for a PhD student and preparing for a meeting with industry. At other times of the year my time is spent more on teaching or running practicals. I try and get down to the lab when I can.
What kind of qualities do you need? What specific qualifications do you need?
A healthy dose of curiosity mixed with a little bit of common sense. You need to be flexible, and creative. Having a solid grounding in Biochemical Engineering really helps, and I’ve brought in experience from my interdisciplinary collaborations. For this job you need a PhD and postdoctoral experience, either in academia or in industry.
What are the best things about your chosen career?

I love the new ideas that arise when working together with colleagues or students. It is totally energising. For me, I love the integration of biotechnology and engineering, and to be able to work on processes that might one day contribute to a more sustainable planet.
Why would you recommend a career in engineering to others?
Yes, and I think Biochemical Engineering is a great option for people who are interested by biology but want to retain the physics/mathematics elements.
And what advice would you give to people who want to move into the industry?
If you are still studying, the best advice I can give is to get hands on experience in a lab. Read up on new developments in biopharmaceuticals or synthetic biology. We offer an MSc course in Biochemical Engineering that enables people from varying academic backgrounds to join us.
Has being a female had any negative or positive aspects in your career path?
Not so much at UCL, but in the past I’ve found that quite often it has been challenging to have your voice heard as a young female engineer.