Taking the pressure

Name: Samuel Vennin
Age: 25 years old
Job title: PhD Student
Qualifications: Dual MSc in Electrical Engineering (ENSEA, France) and Biomedical Engineering (Imperial College London, UK)
Employer: King’s College London and the British Heart Foundation
Where you live: London, United Kingdom

 

Sam Vennin 

Tell us about your job. What do you do?

I am doing an interdisciplinary PhD in cardiovascular medicine and numerical modelling at St Thomas Hospital in London. I mostly study the relationship between blood flow and pressure, and its impact on cardiovascular functions. There are configurations in which collecting noninvasively the data clinicians need is challenging, so I use computer models to design new protocols that can acquire those data and then test my ideas in a clinical setting. I use the same approach to uncover the mechanisms behind some cardiovascular diseases such as hypertension.

 

What does an average day look like for you?

There is no such thing as an average day! I can be in the lab collecting data, behind my desk analyzing them, meeting with friends to plan the next science outreach project or attending a seminar talk which are plentiful in my division. I also meet with my supervisors and collaborators regularly to discuss my results and plan the next steps of my research. My daily schedule is entirely up to me, which allows me to pursue other interests outside of work.

 

How does your work affect people’s lives/the world around us?

I think my work impacts people’s lives in two ways: 1) it creates tools to assist clinicians in their jobs, 2) it produces knowledge that will help creating new treatments and products in the future. It is that tension between present and future that makes Research and Engineering exciting.

 

How did you first become interested in engineering/what inspired you to be an engineer?

I have always had an analytical mind and liked to see how things are related to each other. As a kid, I was constantly building objects with whatever material I could find and wanted to be an “inventor”. My dream was then to try a cardboard-made car I built on the stairs, but oddly enough, my parents never let me. Growing up, none of my relatives were engineers but my Grandfather was a researcher and I was fascinated by his work. We talked a lot – and still do – about Research and Engineering in general and this is where I got the sparks for a career in Engineering.

 

Sam Vennin

 

There are a number of different routes you can take into a career in engineering. What route did you take (and why)?

For a long time, I hesitated between studying Business and Engineering but I thought it was easier acquiring Business skills after Engineering studies than the other way around. So I went for it. I am French and the higher education system there is a bit different from the British one. After high school, I attended a course (Classes Préparatoires aux Grandes Ecoles) that gives you a broad knowledge in sciences (Maths, Physics or Chemistry but also Spanish and even Philosophy!) to prepare you for the Engineering Schools’ entrance exam after 2 years of studies. It is only in Engineering School that you can specialize into a discipline - mine was Electrical Engineering. For my third and last year at school, I got lucky enough to be picked for a dual degree program and studied Biomedical Engineering in London. This is where I realized I loved Research and this field so I decided to stay and pursue a PhD.

A fun fact is that I had always been afraid of hospitals and I can’t stand blood. I used to tell my Mum who is a GP that I would never be a doctor because of that. Now I am doing a PhD on blood pressure… Engineering can lead you into unexpected paths!

 

How important was studying maths and science in school for what you do now?

I wouldn’t be where I am now if I hadn’t studied maths and science. If you are struggling with those subjects, I think it is important to keep the big picture in mind and remember that there is always a purpose to what we study and a way to apply the knowledge we gain.

 

There are fewer women working in engineering than men? What would you say to girls who might be interested in a career in engineering?

My two sisters are engineers or training to become one and what strikes me about them is their confidence in their ability and potential. Working female engineers I know are either more confident than the average male engineer or much more open-minded, which is very valuable in the work place since they often have different insights. So my best advice would be to trust yourself and your abilities, because there are absolutely no reasons you can’t pursue a career in Engineering.

 

What do you like most about engineering?

Its universality, impact and ability to bring people together. The ultimate goal of any engineering process is affecting people’s lives, hopefully for the better. I also like being part of a team, building bridges with people from different disciplines to reach a common goal. Finally, I like to think that the mindset and transferable skills Engineering gives to solve problems and innovate are not restricted to the work place.

 

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I am involved in several science outreach projects, for example with Native Scientist that sends foreign scientists to bilingual school to talk to kids about science and careers in their native tongue. With my Division, we also had a stand at the Royal Society Summer Festival to engage the audience with the cardiovascular research happening at King’s. The interaction with a lay audience is always exciting because it enables you to transmit complex ideas with basic terms. It is a different game.

Recently I became a student contributor for Physics World. I get to write articles about any new science research that I find interesting and worth reporting. Otherwise, I love reading classics, watching movies and learning new languages. I also run a lot and have completed two marathons during my PhD. It is a great way to pass the time and take care of yourself…

 

What personal qualities are important for being an engineer?

Being persistent, resilient, a team player and having a certain dose of self-confidence.

 

If you could go back in time and invent anything, what would it be?

If I was brought back to the 70s, I wish I would have been smart enough to design the first MRI scanner. This is one of the most complex machines ever invented and probably one of the most complete engineering processes too - from the physical concepts and mathematical theory behind generating an electrical signal from your body and transforming it into a beautiful picture, to all the wiring required to make that work and computing needed to process and display the pictures. This machine brought together lots of different people from various fields to enhance it and create new applications, has benefited to so many people over time that you can hardly do more in term of impact. Plus, this is still a very dynamic field more than half a century later!

 

What advice would you give a young person who was considering engineering as a future career?

Be curious, open-minded, passionate; make the most of every opportunity; take things one step at a time but don’t forget to always put things in perspective.