Jess Smith

This is one of my favourite websites:

Favourite Thing: My favourite bit about being a scientist is the experiments! I love having an idea, and then working out how to test it in a hands on way.



Kendrick School, Reading Blue Coat School, Oxford University


A Masters in Engineering (MEng)

Work History:

Before University I was a ski instructor at a dry slope, a waitress, and a toilet attendant for a week at Henley Regatta!

Current Job:

I am studying for a PhD, I also work as a private tutor for school students, and as an undergraduate tutor


Oxford University

Me and my work

I work in bio-medical materials, this is where we look at everything from how to design new drugs, to the tools that surgeons use.

Bio-medical material scientists look at lots of different and interesting things. Some look at new ways to deliver drugs, or at new materials to use in permanent implants- like hip replacements, or they simply try to answer some of natures toughest questions – like how do geckos stick to the wall. It is a really exciting area of science to work in!

In my project we are trying to make new types of ’tissue expander’. A tissue expander is used by surgeons to help grow extra skin before certain types of operation. The reason they need extra skin is either because they are removing some damaged skin (it may have been burnt, had cancer or been badly scarred), or because they need extra space to put something in (like a prosthetic ear). Hopefully the new type of expander will be much smaller, expand different amounts in different directions and cause less pain, which means that we can use it for new types of surgery that are more delicate, like fixing cleft palates (where there is a gap in the top of a babies mouth).

I did Materials Science for my undergraduate degree, which I totally loved- it is full of real-life science and engineering. I have friends from my course doing all sorts of jobs now- including Formula 1 engineers, working for the European Space Agency, Rolls Royce and lots more! Out of the lab I really like sport, I do a lot of running, swimming and skiing, and play tennis and badminton. I also love films, basically anything from Despicable Me to Man of Steel!


My Typical Day

I spend some time at my desk planning my work, and a lot of time in the labs trying new things out.

My days are quite varied, and involve a mixture of time at my desk, planning new experiments and looking over results, and time actually in the labs running experiments. Some experiments require all of your concentration and are very tiring, but other ones are more relaxed so we can listen to music at the same time. For some of the experiments we need to make new pieces of kit, we do this in our mechanical workshop, which I enjoy using a lot. The man who runs it is very nice, and also lets us fix our bikes in there as well!

Our department is next to a really big park, so we normally go for a walk around there (in the summer we take a ball or Frisbee) at lunchtime and then eat in our common room which overlooks the park. It’s a really nice location to work in.

What I'd do with the money

Buy some awesome kit to take around to schools talks

I’m already a STEM ambassador, and as part of this I go in to schools and give talks on Materials Science.  It would be really great to be able to get some new tools to take in to show students. I’m not sure what would be the most useful thing to buy yet- maybe a plastic skeleton or some cool giant molecules. I also hope to do more science festivals in the future (I led a stall at WowHow in Oxford last year) and so I would try to get things that could also be used there. One thing is for sure, I would have a lot of fun choosing!

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Enthusiastic, friendly, messy

Who is your favourite singer or band?

My favourite song is by Bobby Darin (don’t rain on my parade), but my favourite band is probably Queen. I like a lot of newer stuff too though!

What's your favourite food?

Pizza, yum yum

What is the most fun thing you've done?

I cycled down the world’s most dangerous road

What did you want to be after you left school?

I had no idea, some days a banker, some days a pro skier

Were you ever in trouble in at school?

Yes, quite a lot, I had much more energy than suited a classroom! I worked hard at it though and got better as I got older.

What was your favourite subject at school?

P.E… closely followed by chemistry and physics

What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?

I love giving science talks, and I came 3rd at the Materials Science Institute national lecture competition, which I was very pleased with. I also spent 6 weeks in a Malaysian lab last summer which was an amazing experience.

What or who inspired you to become a scientist?

I never really planned to be a scientist, I just kept doing what I enjoyed and it led here! I loved documentaries, especially David Attenborough ones, and I think the new ones with Dara O’Briain and Brian Cox are great. My mum is a science teacher and always answered my questions which let me find new ones to ask.

If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?

Are astronauts scientists? If not then an astronaut!

If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!

I wish that I was better at music- I can’t sing at all and would love to. I wish I was better at English- it would make writing and reading papers a lot quicker. And I wish that I could beat my older brother in a running race!

Tell us a joke.

What did the grape say when the elephant sat on it? …..Nothing, it just let out a little whine.

Other stuff

Work photos: