A mechanical engineering graduate on a GSK Future Leaders Programme is helping to develop user-friendly devices to administer treatments safely.
Lawn mower engines have never particularly interested Dee Tress. Though she studied them – alongside the workings of planes, cars and other facets of mechanical engineering at the University of Southampton – she wanted a career with a more “human” angle.
She’s now working in the pharmaceutical sector on GSK’s graduate scheme, applying her expertise to help perfect devices that deliver medicines to patients. “I like this side to product development because it’s about helping to make people better and getting their lives back on track. It’s not just about how well the grass gets cut,” she says.
Tress is the only one of her immediate student peers to have chosen this route – many of them have gone into aerospace and car industries or finance. “This appealed because it’s so different,” she explains. “There are so many aspects of mechanical engineering; no day is the same here.”
I’ve always been interested in how we interact with materials and equipmentDee Tress
At 23, she’s only been working here for a couple of months, but she’s had ample opportunity to get stuck in to projects within the medical device development team based in Hertfordshire. In her final year at university she chose to specialize in biomedical engineering, so she already had an inkling where her future lay.
Current projects she’s working on include an auto-injecting device: “basically, it’s a syringe you can use at home where the needle retracts so patients can’t injure themselves,” Tress explains. “Lots of people are scared of needles, scared of hurting themselves or getting it wrong.
“As someone who’s keen on sport,” – she’s played cricket to a semi-professional level under an MCC young cricketer scheme – “I’ve always been interested in how we interact with materials and equipment.”
One of the main challenges of this type of engineering is incorporating the human factor. “You have to consider how strong someone is – he or she might be disabled – so what action do they have to perform, can they grip hard enough, for example? Are the devices robust enough not to break if dropped and spill drugs all over the floor? Just because these devices are tiny, there are still mechanical aspects: gears, materials and their properties and so on,” she adds.
You might see someone doing a job you hadn’t thought about but you find really interestingDee Tress
Tress has adjusted swiftly from classroom to work, and is enjoying the applied nature of the job. “My degree at times felt like a lot of facts and numbers,” she says. “Here, you have to apply them and there’s a lot of biology and chemistry involved too, which you have to pick up as you go along.”
As a sixth-former, Tress toyed with pursuing a career in law. At her all-girls’ grammar school in Kent, fewer than 10% of the girls chose to study sciences beyond sixth form, fewer still engineering. With A-levels in maths, physics, biology, English and law, she’d kept her options open.
It was a teacher who’d suggested she consider engineering. “I very consciously chose my A-level subjects to get a broad grounding. At 16, you don’t want to become too side-tracked,” she says. “Don’t rule anything out – you might see someone doing a job you hadn’t thought about but you find really interesting.”
This feature first appeared on The Telegraph - as part of The Telegraph UK STEM Awards 2015.