Spotlight on... Ferdouse Akhter (Astrea Co-Chair)

Ferdouse is the Marketing and Community Manager at the Institute of Healthcare Engineering. She is also Co-Chair of Astrea alongside Aparna Murthy.

Photograph of Ferdouse recording a podcast with a microphone.

What is your role and what does it involve?

I’m currently the Marketing and Community Manager at the Institute of Healthcare Engineering. Recently I had the privilege of becoming the Co-Chair of the Astrea Network, along with my other Co-Chair Aparna Murthy.  

Let me tell you a bit about the Astrea Network, in case you’re not familiar with it. It’s a space for professional women at UCL – our own community – where we can learn from each other and share our experiences. We do this with events and the newsletter which keeps people up to speed. Interested? Join us. 

How long have you been at UCL and what was your previous role?

I’ve been at UCL for a little while. I joined in August 2018, starting off at the Union as a Digital Marketing Coordinator. I was getting comfortable at the Union, so I thought it was time for a change. I applied for a secondment at the Institute of Healthcare Engineering, joining in 2022 and applying for a permanent posting when it was made available. This year (2023) I’ve also been fortunate enough to Co-Chair the Astrea Network. 

What working achievement or initiative are you most proud of?

I’m proud of being able to lead on projects I’m passionate about. When I first joined the IHE, I realised healthcare engineering lacked Black academics. When I say lacked, I mean there were none. I want to change that, one small step at a time. I ran the HDRUK Black Internship Programme at the Institute of Healthcare Engineering and plan to run it again next year.  

Tell us about a project you are working on now which is top of your to-do list?

Currently I’m working on an Engineering wide internship programme that opens doors for those who are disadvantaged – whether it’s because of class (please don’t get me started on the class issue in the UK!), race, gender, or disability. Putting a proposal together, budgets etc. is on the top of my to-do list right now. 

What is your favourite album, film and novel?

I think my favourite book is ‘Why we sleep’ by Matthew Walker. I read it last year and since then I’ve found a new thirst for reading. Like three or four books a month kind of thirst (audiobooks really help bump the numbers up). That’s a big thing for me considering I’ve barely finished a book in all the last ten years.  

What made this book so good for me was that it was practical, full of facts and it made me realise that sleep was important. I mean, we already know sleep is important, but this book really hammered it in for me – how I need sleep to process memories and how I’m shortening my lifespan and increasing my risk of dementia because I think I can go to sleep at 2am and wake up at 8 as a fully functional human (I can’t!).  

It's also got a review by Bill Gates on Goodreads, and I’ve never seen that happen before so if that isn’t a stamp of how good it is, I don’t know what is. 

What is your favourite joke (pre-watershed)?


I think I’m funny, sometimes. 

What advice would you give your younger self?

That you can do it. I always used to worry about asking for help – will they think I can’t do my job properly; will they judge me for being stupid? But by not asking for help, I’d pour hours over tasks that should not have taken much time. Ask for help and if you don’t feel like you can’t, is that really the place for you? 

What would it surprise people to know about you?

I’m the host of a podcast? Apparently, I have “a lovely podcast voice” but you haven’t heard me cackle because I also, surprisingly, do that too.  

The podcast is called ‘Health in a Handbasket’, and for 30 minutes every week I cover what healthcare engineering is because what the heck is that? I, for one, didn’t really know before I started this job and that’s pretty much the premise of the podcast – me, a layperson, asking all our amazing researchers what they’re working on and how they’re changing the world. This is a small plug for the podcast by the way – don’t let my effort go in vain, give the first episode a listen. 

What is your favourite place?

On top of a mountain – I think that would be my favourite place. On the way up it’s hard, you feel like you’re dying, and your legs are on fire but when you get to the top, it’s such an amazing feeling. You’re on top of the world, you’ve climbed for hours, and you look down, legs like jelly, and just marvel at how your body has just done this - climbed a mountain! If it’s not cloudy, the views are breathtaking too. 

Who would you most like to have a conversation with at an Astrea Happy to Chat bench and why? 

Probably my grandmas. They’ve both passed away now but it would be nice to sit with them and hear their stories. Hear about tales from Bangladesh - what made them happy and what made them sad, what advice they would give me – just their stories. Both women passed away in their 80’s so with such full lives I’m sure they would have had a lot to say.