Zoe Hancox, MSc Medical Engineering alumni

Zoe Hancox

Zoe Hancox was drawn to study a Medical Engineering MSc at the University of Leeds because of the great feedback she had heard about it from others. She had finished an undergraduate degree at another university and wanted to check out others.

Zoe said “There were a huge number of exciting modules on offer and the University of Leeds is one of the top universities in the UK for mechanical engineering and has fantastic career prospects. The Medical Engineering department is always undertaking life-changing research, it has brilliant connections with a variety of companies and you can tell that the academics working here really want to make a difference to people’s health.”

Academic life

Thinking back on her degree, she said “The step up from a Bachelor’s course to a Master’s course, in my opinion, was more difficult than starting university. This Master’s degree has made a huge impact on my academic approach to research. This course was great for teaching me how to critically analyse research papers and my own work, comparing and contrasting results to determine the flaws and benefits of various techniques. Along the way I have learnt to try and be more concise with my academic writing, this in turn develops my academic voice to hopefully improve my chances of having more high-impact factor research papers published.

Thanks to this course I’ve been able to learn techniques and ideas that are brand new to me, and this has opened my mind to unique methods to tackle problems. I’m excited to use the knowledge I have gained over the year and apply it to develop concepts along throughout my research career.”

When asked about the best aspect of the course, Zoe described “The great thing about Medical Engineering is that it’s a combination of mechanical engineering, computer science, biology, medicine and material science. This diversity has allowed me to explore different topics, focusing on developing ideas to make better medical devices with improved outcomes for patients.”

Putting people’s lives and well-being first is paramount for Medical Engineering, and with this course, you can really tell that all of the lecturers believe this too and want to help make a difference.”

In semester 1, within small teams Zoe adapted and redesigned external fixator devices, which are used to fix lower limb bones in place, with severe fractures, to improve healing. Thinking back on the project she said “We had to design the fixator device so that it was feasible to make cheaply, ensuring it was accessible to everyone. This was quite difficult, and we didn’t manage to design it within the £50 limit, but working in a team with tight deadlines and specifications is good to give you a taste of real jobs.”

For her professional project, Zoe researched existing breast implant surfaces and designed an alternative that could potentially reduce the failure rate of breast implants to make them last longer in the body. Unfortunately, due to the Covid-19 lockdown, she did not get to use any of the laboratory equipment to test and evaluate her design. However, she still thinks her project was worthwhile and it was very interesting to research breast implants and biomaterials. She added, “There are also a few other mini-projects you get involved in with other modules in the course that focus on research and report writing for fascinating topics.”

Life in Leeds

Moving to a new city is a big moment in anyone’s life, and Zoe said “I’ve felt really at home at Leeds, despite being anxious at first that the university would feel large and I’d be another face amongst hundreds. I know that the staff at the university care and want to help you succeed, and I think this is the best aspect of studying this course at Leeds because feeling like you belong will help you develop yourself to where you want to be.”

She continued, “One of the best things about going to Leeds is that it has everything you need in one place. This is especially useful when you need to go shopping, as there’s always a shop where you can find what you need. (Something I find particularly useful when it comes to Christmas shopping for the family). The city centre is quite big but it’s very accessible and once you get to know it, it’s easy to get around on foot. There’s a variety of exciting places to eat, museums to explore and parks to visit.

I lived outside of the city throughout the year, but due to the regular and reliable bus service to and from Leeds, getting to university was very easy. Students can buy an annual bus ticket that’s very good value for money, the particular one I had allowed unlimited travel in West Yorkshire. I made the most of this ticket when I could and explored, not just Leeds, but other beautiful areas around West Yorkshire, going for walks whenever I had the time.”

Looking to the future

Like make students who come to Leeds, Zoe decided to stay to further her studies, she said “I have enjoyed my time at Leeds so much that I decided to apply to do a PhD at the University of Leeds. I will be starting the course in October and I look forward to being part of the research team and making a difference in medical diagnosis and care. The knowledge I have gained from completing my MSc in Medical Engineering gave me a solid background and some great research skills that I can apply to my PhD.

During my PhD, I hope to do an integrated 3-month placement with the NHS, which will give me a real-life experience of what it’s like to work in hospitals. After I’ve completed my PhD I would like to spend several years working for either the NHS or for a company that cares about improving healthcare. And with the combination of research and experience, I would eventually like to return to University as a lecturer to share what I have learnt and to teach a new generation.”

Next generation

When asked to give some words of wisdom to future students on this course, Zoe said “Most importantly don’t be afraid to ask questions. Whether it’s about coursework, assessments or about future education/careers, there’s always someone who is happy to help.

Make use of all of the resources the University has to offer whilst you’re a student as there are loads of free extra courses. For example, as a student, you have access to LinkedIn Learning with thousands of videos to teach you new topics. Your University account enables you to read thousands of books (online and in the University libraries) and you can book appointments with the careers team for help with applications or you can get academic skills advice for coursework. The list goes on!”

Zoe was a student representative while doing her MSc. This involved attending meetings with staff and students from every level and each course within the School of Mechanical Engineering. She described “This was a great way for me to be part of the development of the school and give information to my cohort on the course and future ideas. I found that being able to voice the opinions of my fellow students to a panel of staff was very beneficial to everyone on my course. This role is available to two students per cohort and I highly recommend it if this sounds like something you would enjoy.”

She added “This course is only a year long, and despite the hard work you have to put in, it goes very fast. It’s worth getting to know other students and lecturers at the University, even if you are not studying the same discipline, you’d be amazed at how much you can learn from one another. But most importantly try to enjoy what you do; this course is highly rewarding and can make a real difference to your future.”

Discover more about the School of Mechanical Engineering or chat to a student.