An image of Jeff ClarkCan you tell us about yourself? 

Hey, I’m Jeff a PhD student working both here in the Department of Materials and jointly supervised by staff in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. My undergraduate degree was in mechanical engineering (Warwick) and when I started it I didn’t really know what I’d like to do afterwards. It was only after taking a module on biomaterials did I begin to appreciate that us non-medics could have such a profound impact in healthcare and regenerative medicine. Working on research projects was my favourite part of the degree so I knew that continuing in research with a PhD could be a good route. It took me a few years to perfect the application though so I spent some time gaining experience working in both academic research and industry before starting here.  Outside of research I enjoy nature and volunteering at community projects and writing about my PhD experiences on my blog.

Can you provide a summary of your research? 

My PhD involved using 3D imaging (micro-CT) to help both understand, and hopefully regenerate, articular cartilage: a tissue on the end of bones in the articulating joints of your body.
Cartilage can be damaged by traumatic accidents and sporting injuries or even just day to day wear and tear. Unlike other biological tissue such as bone, cartilage tissue isn’t good at repairing itself well therefore once damaged it can continue to degrade and may eventually lead to osteoarthritis. The research I’m involved with uses micro-CT imaging and compression testing to help reveal the tissue’s properties and design new biomaterial interventions. The hybrid biomaterials are being developed in Prof Julian Jones’ group to reverse the damage and regenerate the tissue. Along with materials scientists and mechanical engineers I also work with biologists and surgeons: it’s really interesting to work in a multidisciplinary team and learn from experts in these other fields.

Why you chose to study at Imperial and has your experience been so far? 

The main reason I chose to study at Imperial was because I found the project proposal really interesting and knew that the academics were leaders in the field. Funding is an important consideration too, and I was fortunate to be awarded one of the college’s scholarships.

It has been a fantastic experience doing my PhD here, I can’t really have asked for anything more. It was only after starting the PhD did I really appreciate how great all the facilities and support are both in the department and across college. There are loads of Graduate School courses to improve your skills, everyone is really friendly and the department puts on some great social events throughout the year. I think that being a PhD student is a great time to make the most of opportunities (https://www.thesavvyscientist.com/how-to-make-the-most-of-opportunities) and would encourage all students to get involved and try new things. Outside of research, here at Imperial we’re very lucky to have so much clubs and societies at the union and you can still get involved with them all as a postgraduate. Since being here I’ve tried gliding, scuba diving and surfing, and was president of the environmental society last year. There is of course lots going on around London too.

What is the current highlight of your PhD? 

The highlight of my PhD has been the opportunity to start collaborations. My project involves working with other institutions (Natural History Museum and Royal Veterinary College) which have been very interesting, but more than that it has been the times I’ve worked together closely on an idea with other researchers here at Imperial which I’ve enjoyed the most.

Another highlight has been getting involved with outreach. Being an introvert I wasn’t sure at first that I’d enjoy it but it has been so fulfilling to engage with the public and potentially inspire some future researchers. The department has loads of opportunities for anyone who is keen to get involved. I’ve helped host school students, exhibited at both the Imperial Festival (now the Great Exhibition Road Festival) and the Royal Society all of which have been fantastic experiences.

Finally, conferences are a great experience and I’d encourage all PhD students to make an effort to go to them. 

What are your top tips for completing a PhD at Imperial?

My main tips for completing a PhD here at Imperial are: 

  • Meet regularly with your supervisor and research group. Firstly this can be useful to keep you on track but also you can learn so much by speaking through ideas with other people.
  • Make detailed notes! Not only is this good for your sanity but you’ll thank yourself when you come to write up both papers and your thesis.
  • Look after yourself and take your mental health seriously. Eating well, getting exercise and taking your sleep seriously all help not just with your physical health but also your mental wellbeing. Make time for breaks and fun activities to separate yourself from your work: for example I’ve found reading fiction books to help (https://science.sciencemag.org/content/366/6467/91) A PhD is a marathon and not a sprint, you’ll burn out quickly if  you don’t take care of yourself.
  • Make time to socialise, the experience is much easier and less isolating speaking to other students. The department’s GradSoc organise some great events for this throughout the year.
  • Enjoy the experience. You’re in a very fortunate position to learn about something you’re interested in. Yes there is always more work that you could do but it’s not always productive to do so, be grateful and let yourself live in the moment because the time goes quickly.