Sheila MacNeil, is a Professor of Tissue Engineering in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Sheffield - she's influential in her field of engineering.
Sheila is keen to encourage young women to consider a career in engineering. “Engineers are practical, pragmatic, problem solving folk and very often to solve a big problem need to work in teams. Assembling a team to tackle a big problem is an area where women are often very successful; there’s a great deal of satisfaction when you find a better way of doing things.”
Passionate about problem solving
Sheila is in fact a biologist working within an engineering faculty. "I work closely with clinicians and materials engineers to develop biomaterials and tissue engineering based materials that can translate to clinical benefit," explains Sheila. "For example, I’ve developed tissue engineered skin and biomaterials to assist in cornea repair and I’m currently developing repair materials for women suffering from urinary stress incontinence.”
Sheila is passionate about problem solving and applying creative solutions to clinical challenges. “I undertook a degree in physiology at the University of Aberdeen where I was really very interested to learn how the human body works and then went on to take a PhD in the University of Sheffield working on a perplexing clinical challenge of why the common rare earth lithium can benefit patients with manic depression. This got me hooked on clinical problems and over the years I was attracted to clinical challenges where increasingly it became clear that an interdisciplinary approach was needed. I began working with materials scientists. This proved so fascinating that I moved into the Materials Science & Engineering Department at the University of Sheffield in 2000 and this has been my research base ever since.“
Importance of National Women in Engineering Day
National Women in Engineering Day (NWED) is an opportunity to celebrate women engineers and challenge the misconceptions of the industry - and Sheila is keen to address this. “Engineering is not venerated in the UK, unlike other countries. We need to send a strong message to young girls that there are lots of women engineers doing great things! Engineering is a broad church and can offer many opportunities. It requires practical, hands on skills and the ability to solve problems. These are all skills which women have in abundance and perform well not just as team members, but leading teams of engineers.”
NWED recognises the achievements of influential engineers like Sheila and hopes to raise the profile of women engineers as role models for the next generation. “Young women need lots of role models, and examples of women who are achieving things and making a difference. If they can see people in their mid-twenties and early thirties having exciting careers, this can be very positive - that is what would have fired me up at an early age.“
An excellent role model
Sheila describes herself as enthusiastic, hardworking and very stubborn which are all qualities which lend themselves well to creative problem solving. She's clearly an excellent role model and has achieved an impressive career in tissue engineering.
“I think I’m particularly proud of two things: one is the research group we’ve built at University of Sheffield. It’s not just my efforts. I have six other colleagues and they’re all working on real problems such as nerve and bone repair and they’re all making very good progress. Secondly, some years ago we set up a bioengineering undergraduate degree which all of my colleagues contribute to and I think we’re offering a degree that really addresses not just today’s problems, but the problems of the next generation. It’s a very attractive degree becauae it’s where engineering meets human health problems. I’ve not delivered that this my own, it has been a team effort.”
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