Science Week Science Profiles – Christina Ryan, Medtronic

As part of Science Week 2022 we are profiling local STEM role models to showcase the different careers and job opportunities currently available to young people interested in science. Next up is Christina Ryan from Medtronic. Christina is a Digital Technology Engineer, mainly in the area of augmented/virtual reality and 3D computer models. We caught up with Christina and asked her some questions about her career in science:

Tell us a little about your earliest experiences of science?

The earliest experience that I can remember was when I was about 12 years old, I was visiting an open day for secondary school and a science lab was set up with various displays/experiments on each of the different benches. On the first bench there was a rat that had been dissected with all of its anatomy labelled and I found it really fascinating to get to see how all of the different body parts worked together to create an animal that could eat, breathe, walk and think. It had a great impact on me and it was the first time I thought about science as a career option.

What did you study at college, and can you tell us a little about it?

I stayed in college for a long time 😊 I really enjoy learning new and different things. I started off by doing Biological and Chemical Sciences (4 years) in University College Cork (UCC), it was a general course where I could experience many different areas of science and help narrow down what I really enjoyed. The first year had four main subjects: Biology, Chemistry, Physics and Maths, I was never very interested in Physics and hadn’t done it as a leaving cert subject, in fact I failed my physics exam at the end of that year however my grades in the other 3 subjects allowed me to continue to second year where I got to choose the subjects I wanted to do. I did a number of different modules including anatomy, biochemistry, physiology, and zoology. In the end I chose to finish my degree in the area of Neuroscience as it was the most different to everything else I had learned and for the final two years I completed modules like anatomy, physiology and biochemistry that were focused specifically on the brain, also learning about conditions such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.

After finishing my Neuroscience degree I went on to do a taught Masters in Neuropharmacology (1 year) in Ollscoil na Gaillimhe (formerly NUI Galway). This built on the knowledge I had already learned but focused on the signalling chemicals (neurotransmitters) that make the brain work and how imbalances in these chemicals can cause various illnesses such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s, as well as anxiety or depression. The course also went through how various drugs work to treat these illnesses. When I finished the masters I decided to stay in Galway to do a PhD, though in a very different area. I joined a medical device lab where I worked for 5 years on a project to evaluate different materials and chemicals to find out which ones that tendon cells like to grow on the most. Although this was very different to the specialised areas I had studied up to then, a lot of what I learned was transferrable and I knew I could learn the information I needed as I had been able to before!

What is your current role and what do you enjoy most about it?

I am now working as a Digital Technology Engineer, mainly in the area of augmented / virtual reality and 3D computer models. This is very different from what I did in college, however I have gotten to learn a lot of new things. Moreover, a lot of the skills that I learned from college I can use in my current job such as critical thinking, decision making, presenting information to different people and technical writing etc. I mainly work with different companies to evaluate new technology and if that technology is something that will help us to get work done with better quality and/or quicker. The thing I enjoy most about my role is that I get to investigate a lot of different types of cool technology such as AR/VR headsets or 3D scanners and I get to keep learning new things all the time.

What is your favourite science fact?

There are no pain receptors in the brain. Headaches are caused by pain receptors in other tissues surrounding the brain such as blood vessels or the membranes that protect the brain.

What advice would you give to a young person considering a career in science?

If you have an interest in science but are not sure what exactly you want to do, don’t worry too much about what area you go into at the beginning, any science course you do will be a gateway to multiple different career pathways and you’re never stuck, you can always change. Also don’t sweat it if you’re not a maths genius, I have a PhD in Biomedical Engineering and I failed physics in college.