National Women in Engineering Day – Dr Helen Mulvana

Happy National Women in Engineering Day! To celebrate NWED the folks over at WiSTEM have been gathering up some stories of female engineers in industry and academia. Today we’re posting our first one from Dr Helen Mulvana, Lord Kelvin Adam Smith Research Fellow at School of Engineering. We hope you enjoy the blogs, NWED and celebrate all these women in a sector that is predominantly male.


My research concerns the use of medical ultrasound to improve the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. I love my job and the opportunity to work on research which could make a real difference to patients affected by cancer, their carers and families, but would probably not have guessed this is what I would be doing had I been asked at the beginning of my career.

Having been a bit of an all-rounder at school, and despite doing well in maths and sciences, it was really woodwork and metalwork that I most enjoyed. My school career’s advisor hadn’t mentioned engineering as a degree subject and I was a little naïve about what I would do at university until one of my A-level teachers pointed me to the Product Design Engineering course at the University of Glasgow. At the time it was the only course of its kind accredited by the IMechE and which led to a real engineering (BEng/MEng) degree. I really enjoyed the course and went on to work as a design and development engineer for a metrology company on graduating, confirming my future in engineering.

Despite enjoying my job, I was curious about how I could use my engineering skills to make more of an impact on society. I decided to return to academia to study for a PhD in Medical Devices at the University of Strathclyde, with the aim of seeking a biomedical engineering role on graduation. In fact I found I enjoyed research so much, and in particular the field of medical ultrasound, that I went on to do a post-doc at Imperial College London before arriving back at Glasgow having secured a prestigious LKAS fellowship.

The fellowship has allowed me to develop my independence as an academic and build my own research group and facilities. My main activities can be summarised as working towards a better understanding of the interactions between ultrasound and cells or tissues in order to develop ultrasound techniques for both non-invasive targeted drug delivery and better diagnostic imaging. My work is extremely varied and necessitates collaboration with cell biologists, clinicians, chemists and other engineers in order to make a real impact. One of the projects I’m currently most excited about is a clinical patient stuAlso check out @UofGEngineering  for some amazing tweets today.dy I will begin shortly. Working with a colorectal surgeon we will trial a new ultrasound imaging technique in patients undergoing surgery for colorectal cancer. We aim to improve the information available to the surgeon required to stage colorectal cancer and make decisions about the extent of surgery required to treat the patient. We hope that in the future this will lead to fewer patients having to undergo major surgery to achieve a good oncological outcome, ultimately improving their recovery and quality of life post-treatment.”



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