Blog Profiles

STEMinist Profile: Jacinta Yap, PhD Student – Marie Sklodowska Curie Fellow

Jacinta Yap

PhD Student – Marie Sklodowska Curie Fellow

QUASAR group of the University of Liverpool, based at the Cockcroft Institute. Part of the Optimising Medical Accelerator (OMA) training network.

What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
When I came across medical physics, I realised that it’s got everything that I’m interested in and what motivates me: science, medicine, physics and all the technical aspects from engineering.

Growing up I had an interest in maths and science but I didn’t really know what I wanted to do at university. Initially I wanted to do a science degree, but given my dad and brother’s background in mechanical engineering, my parents advised me to pursue something more practical and so I did a major in mechanical engineering. After that I thought maybe medicine, radiology or radiation oncology, and this is how I discovered medical physics.

As a medical physicist, I will be able to use my technical expertise but also do something that would impact people’s lives directly. I would like to work in a hospital and interact with patients, doctors and machines, seeing first-hand the difference I am making.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
I am a Marie Sklodowska Curie Fellow in the QUASAR group of the University of Liverpool, headed by Professor Carsten Welsch, and I am based at the Cockcroft Institute, UK. I am also part of the Optimising Medical Accelerator (OMA) training network, and my project is looking at both beam diagnostics and radiobiology.

In one of my studies, we are trying to figure out why proton therapy – a new form of cancer treatment – is more effective than conventional radiotherapy at the biological level: why it does more cluster damage to DNA, why this makes it harder to repair, or if it creates more strand breaks… basically pairing up the physics with the biology.

Although significant progress has been made in the use of particle beams for cancer treatment, there are still a lot of unanswered questions in proton therapy.

It’s very difficult to pinpoint exactly why proton therapy is effective overall, because there are so many different factors. One thing that is agreed is that proton therapy can do more DNA damage to the cancer. If you compare the damage with other types of radiation you can see that cells are slower to repair.

Role models and heroes:
For me, I think Marie Sklodowska Curie represents courage; she was able to overcome many challenges and to pursue something fearlessly.

I was actually recently in Krakow, where there has been a long established university, the university Marie Sklodowska Curie wanted to go to. At that time they didn’t accept women so she went to France.

She is probably the first prominent female researcher who has done really incredible things, and it’s because of her legacy that people like me are able to come overseas and pursue our own dreams. She is an inspiration.

Why do you loving working in STEM?
During previous placements in hospitals shadowing medical physicists, I realised a clinic is a very dynamic environment – lots of things were happening all the time. There was a lot of interaction with patients and with other staff – it was really cool to see what happens. Without a medical physicist they wouldn’t have the technical expertise they need to treat these patients. They are right at the forefront.

Advice for future STEMinists?
Don’t be afraid of the challenges! Take each hurdle in stride and view them as learning experiences – its easy to overlook the simple perspective change, just thinking of them as opportunities to learn and grow can do wonders!

Favorite website or app:
Quora – kind of like reddit; question and answer platform but a bit more educational, there’s some really interesting and enlightening topics and discussions on there.

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