About CSci

  • Professor Pankaj Vadgama
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Professor Pankaj Vadgama
Featured Profile: 
At A Glance
Licensed Body: 
South East
First Degree: 
BSc in Chemistry at Newcastle
Director of the IRC in Biomedical Materials
Works For: 
Queen Mary University of London
MBBS, BSc in Chemistry, PhD (biosensors)
Pet Hates: 
Intellectual silos
Burning Ambition: 
To translate research into effective clinical systems
The ability to be an especially effective communicator so that I don’t have to waste time convincing people about new ideas
Big Picture
When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? 
I had zero ambition and no idea. I did have one thought about becoming a macho air force pilot. As I grew up I knew that my work was going to be technological. Then I had a mental shift towards the notion of using technology to try and help people
Who or what inspired you to become a scientist? 
Clinical medicine didn’t have the science within it that I was looking for, so I moved to pathology, but that wasn’t entirely satisfactory either. I was exposed to an interesting teacher who was teaching biochemistry in a different way. I discovered this man had done a full time three year chemistry degree after his medical degree. He encouraged five of us to do the same even though it was unheard of to for a young doctor to do another degree while they’re working full time. My sadness is this kind of opportunity won’t happen again to other students. My background is different to the majority of people who come into medicine who are pursuing a mega-career. For the five of us that did this route, it was a mission to bring science to medicine
What do you love about your job and being a “scientist”? 
Simply the act of trying to find something that hasn’t been found before. Pure discovery
What would you change? 
On the science side, a greater push to multi-discipline working so we move away from an obsession with individual subjects. I would avoid a self-limiting mindset and instil this concept in medical disciplines
What qualifications did you take at school? 
I did A-levels in Zoology, Chemistry, and Physics
Why did you choose your first degree subject? 
BSc in Chemistry at Newcastle
Do you have a Masters or PhD? If not, was it difficult to demonstrate Masters-level equivalence in order to achieve CSci? 
Medical degree at Newcastle and PhD in biosensors
How do you describe your job when you meet people at a party? 
I tell them I work on monitoring systems for continuous patients who have diabetes or are critically ill. These are biocompatible biosensors for reliable metabolite monitoring (i.e. glucose, lactate). They’re like a chemical thermometer. Biosensors come in a variety of shapes. Take for an example, Boots’ glucose meter strips. Half of these are biosensors. We work on structures a bit like that. We also work on structures that look like an injection needle, with the tip comprised of biological molecules and membranes. We make currents and measure stress indicators like glucose and lactic acid. I’m involved in a major programme starting for elite athletes where we look at their performance. It’s a partnership between Imperial, Queen Mary, Loughborough University, and UK Sport
What is ‘cutting-edge’ about your work? 
Probably the aspect of merging material sciences with biology and making the devices biocompatible so that they can survive the attacks from body fluids when you operate
What are the biggest implications your work will/could have in the future? 
To provide a continuous read-out of rapid biochemical changes in people who are unstable with regard to their internal chemistry
Describe some of the highlights of your average day. 
Making a small step forward with a new idea or providing advice on strategy to do with science or research policy
Describe briefly how your career has progressed to date. 
I qualified in medicine and went into pathology, a branch relating to chemistry, but was uncomfortable with service work. An opportunity came up to do a pure science degree in chemistry after my medical degree, which I did while working at the same time. I’ve been sort of a “double agent” all my life. I did a PhD with a leader in diabetes on bio-sensors (purely coincidental because he was leading my department). After my PhD I worked in close collaboration with what was then Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) who had a big interest in biosensors. Their funding allowed me to be a researcher. Sometime after that I became a fulltime academic at the University of Manchester as a Professor of Clinical Biochemistry. I ran a hospital department and did research, and then received an invitation to come to London. I’ve now been at Queen Mary for ten years
How is your job cross-disciplinary? 
My job is probably the most extreme example of cross-disciplinary you might encounter. My service work deals entirely with biochemistry (medical and chemical analysis). My research is entirely devoted to problems of better biomaterials for sensors. So one area of my work is material science and the other is chemistry. I have a medical degree but I’m in a science and engineering department which is very unusual
How do you see your field developing over the next 5-10 years? 
I think the input of better micro-technology – usable nanotechnology – will allow us to make more devices and better materials science will improve design work inside the body
What’s the most unexpected thing about your job? 
The fact that, coming from a non materials background, anybody thinks that I have useful comments to make about biomaterials
What’s the biggest achievement of your career so far? 
Probably to have developed devices that survive better in body tissues and fluids
Would you say you have a good standard of living/ work-life balance? 
No. I think you either commit and fire on all cylinders or get the hell out
What do your friends and family think about your job? 
I think my extended family doesn’t really understand because it’s so unusual. My immediate family do understand. They think I’m some sort of academic guru or leader
What kind of hobbies or extracurricular activities do you do to relax? 
Reading and walking
Why did you choose to apply for CSci and what do you value most about being a Chartered Scientist? 
I have a very strong relationship with the Institute of Materials and I got a number of diplomas. I also became a Fellow of the Institute of Physics, Chemistry and Materials. I didn’t need anything more, but I could see the need for a template showing that I bothered to be a chartered scientist. The Institute of Materials picked three of us they thought best demonstrated their values – exemplars worthy of chartered status – and put us forward
What is the value of professional bodies? 
They provide the fabric in which you can operate. They provide you with a leadership which tells you what’s happening, which way the wind’s blowing and how you can connect with the community. It’s only by working with the community that you can work out what standards you should be reaching. Professional bodies provide an authenticated leadership
How important is CPD? What do you think of the revalidation process in ensuring that CSci is a mark of current competence? 
CPD – fine, legitimate, very appropriate. But I’m not saying CPD necessarily teaches you things that you didn’t know. I have a memory like a sieve so I’m not sure CPD has left any permanent mark on my memory. Maybe it changes your attitude? The CPD I have to do for the Royal College of Pathology is far more exhaustive than CSci, at least 200 hours a year
Advice & Reflection
What words of wisdom would you give someone interested in getting into your field? 
Decide inside you, in your own gut, what it is you want and stay with it. What happens around you happens anyway and it’ll change. You don’t have to go with the flow – go with your own instincts
How important is the mentoring process in your field and to you personally? 
It’s quite demanding and very strong. I mentor young researchers and doctors. I have had probably two mentors who’ve given me an idea of how to conduct myself…mentoring in those days was not as close as it today
How would you define “professionalism”? 
I have an innate bias. Being a medic by trade I’m part of a profession which is very clear about what a professional is… I think they’ve defined it in about 1000 words. This should be extended to science. There’s a primary linkage with ethics. You have to be absolutely true to your internal guiding principle of intellectual honesty, transparency, and efficacy with how you deal with colleagues. Importantly, in situations where the temptation is to reverse those rules when pressures are against you to not be ethical or fair to your colleagues in a competitive world…a true professional rises above this. There’s a parallel to being a statesman versus a politician
What would you do differently if you were starting out in your career now? 
That makes the assumption that I had control over my career – which I didn’t – things happened and I took opportunities. The one slight regret I have, but I didn’t have the energy to do, was a post-graduate diploma (MRCP) that allows you to operate more effectively as a physician. This would have allowed me a greater patient contact link, but I’m not sure I had the energy to do it!
What would you like people to remember about your life as a scientist? 
That I tried to operate in different fields – translating things from one field to another
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