UCL Centre for Engineering Education


Marina Melero Bernal - Medical Physics and Biomedical Engineering

Marina Photo

How would you describe your area of study or work?

I did my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees at UCL on Biomedical Engineering and Artificial Intelligence (Machine Learning). During my studies I focused on the development of prosthetic devices to help people with disabilities restore mobility, as well as on wearable technology to monitor health and well-being, especially in sports. Later on, when I became more proficient in programming, I did various internships on software engineering and machine learning. In the last year, I have been conducting research on using machine learning, a field within Artificial Intelligence (AI), to analyse dance movement from video and be able to give corrections and personalised feedback to dancers. 

What is your favourite part of your job/area of study/area of research?  

 Over the last couple of years, I have been working on various research projects combining arts and technology at Microsoft Research, Johns Hopkins University, Adobe Research and UCL. My favourite part of doing research is when the creativity of coming up with new ideas, merges with the logical and rational nature of putting them into action. For example, for my Master’s thesis I developed a programme that uses machine learning to analyse dance movement from video and gives feedback to the dancer. Coming up with the application and idea involved imagination and creativity. Actually making it required a great deal of technical skills (e.g. programming, machine learning knowledge etc.) as well as discipline and rigour to test every step worked thoroughly.

What is the most valuable lesson you have learnt during your studies/career so far?

 Don’t compare yourself to other people and trust your own curiosity, interest and passions.
I have always loved arts and sciences. Before starting university I travelled and danced for a year and had been training in dance since I was young. Throughout my degree, I was going to lectures and studying daily, and running to dance rehearsals and performances in between. I thought I would have to give up dance to complete my degree, or give up my degree to pursue dance professionally. However, instead of quitting any of these I continued doing both. I felt stressed and lonely often. My life during university might seem challenging to other people as I had to make difficult sacrifices at times. However, after a while, I found my own balance. I managed to graduate from a Master’s degree at UCL and work at various technology companies, whilst still training, dancing and performing regularly. Whilst it was hard at times, I cannot imagine doing it differently. I would encourage everyone to be curious about their own potential and explore anything that excites them without ever being discouraged. I found that the creative imagination I practice when I dance helps me think about research problems very differently and come up with interesting ideas and solutions. Additionally, whilst engineering and research require me to be a lot “in my head”, dance helps me clear my mind and be “in my body”. This really helps me be more focused and fresh when studying or working on scientific projects.

What attracted you to participate in outreach and engagement activities?  

I think it’s important that we break the stereotypes on the profile of people who study and work in STEM. I normally find myself being the only woman in the room, and it just doesn’t feel right. Every field should have a diversity of people represented. Not only in terms of gender, but also race, ethnicity, ability or socio-economic background. It is only in this manner that we will be able to move forward in science, engineering and technology in a way which benefits everyone and leaves no one behind. 

What is the best thing about being involved in outreach activities?  

It’s very special to realise you can inspire others. I feel a lot of empathy when I talk to younger students who are on similar paths I am. I see myself in their eyes and feel a very natural inclination to help them. I like listening to their challenges and drawing lessons and tips from my own experience that might help them navigate their own journey. 

What type of activities or programmes have you led/run?  

I have been a guest speaker at schools talking about my experience at university and working with major technology companies like Microsoft and Adobe. In my 2nd year of university, I designed and ran a wearable technology workshop for young people from under-represented communities and disadvantaged backgrounds in London. Three years ago, I started a social enterprise called Lairn, using radio in order to teach children in remote areas from around the world. 

What outreach activity or programme are you most proud to have been involved with?

I am proud of starting Lairn, a social enterprise to teach children in remote areas around the world through radio. I decided to start Lairn in 2016 and after 8 months working with my team, we had created a life skills education curriculum that can be delivered through the radio and run a pilot project in Nepal (https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=eqvsPJlJroo). It was very challenging to go from an idea, ‘education through radio’, to action: actually implementing the project in Nepal, especially combining this work with my engineering studies at UCL and dancing semi-professionally. I feel extremely grateful to everyone who helped me make it a reality, as well as for all the lessons on leadership and entrepreneurship I learned along the way. 

What advice would you give young people wanting to study or work in STEM-related fields?   

Stay curious about the world but also about yourself! Don’t put yourself in a box because that really limits what you can do. “Engineer” is just a tag. You can be so many things in life. It’s OK not to fit in. Always be open and explore, it’s what makes life fun and interesting. But I believe it’s also the way to develop a professional career doing something that you enjoy, are good at and has meaning or purpose in the world.