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Dr Jennifer Z paxton

Lecturer in Anatomy, University of Edinburgh

And - PhD, and author

Now I also get to teach anatomy to others, which is a huge privilege.

What do you do?

My job is split into 3 different areas; teaching, research and administration.

 

My teaching role involves teaching human anatomy to medical and science students at the University of Edinburgh. This can be either lecturing to large groups of students, teaching gross anatomy in the anatomy dissecting rooms using body donors, or through our online learning environment.

 

My research is very much related to anatomy as I am a Tissue Engineer, interested in findings ways that we can build new body parts in the laboratory. I’m particular interested in the musculoskeletal system and the parts of the body that enable us to move. For this, I run my research lab (Paxton Lab), supervising research project students, writing grants to bring funding in to do our experiments and publishing our results for others to read.

 

Lastly, the admin side of the role involves the running of our postgraduate degree in Anatomical Sciences,. This lets students anywhere in the world study anatomy with us in Edinburgh from their home location. 

Why did you choose this field?

I’d always been really interested in how the body works and was strongly encouraged to apply to medicine when I was at school. Deep down, I knew I didn’t really want to do that though, since I really loved maths and physics and didn’t think I would enjoy the life of a medical doctor. My dad worked as an engineer and so we often spent weekends together building things or taking them part to see how they worked! Then, when I was in high school I saw a job title of ‘biophysicist’ and really liked the sound of that. Unfortunately, I was told at school that ‘biology and physics’ don’t go together’ (eh, yes they do!!) and so I could only study physics and chemistry. In fact, I didn’t study any biology at school!

 

I went to University to study anatomy to simply understand more about how the body works and how it is put together. It was after my undergraduate degree that I was looking for ways to use my anatomical knowledge and I applied to study bioengineering. That was the most amazing year of my academic life, when I found all the different ways in which the physical sciences can be used in combination with anatomy to advance healthcare. From here I was completely hooked, and I went on to study Tissue Engineering for my PhD. I’ve continued working in this exciting field since then, but now I also get to teach anatomy to others which is a huge privilege. 

What do you look at and think, "I wish younger me would have known this was possible"?

"Everything will turn out okay."

I love to tell a younger me that one day I would actually be a scientist and get paid to find out how things work. Younger me would not believe that it was really possible. I’d also tell her that you ARE good enough and not to worry so much.

Why do you love working in STEM?

"There is always something interesting on the horizon."

I love that every day in my job is different. One day I can be teaching gross anatomy to a group of eager medical students, the next I can be discussing exciting new results with a research student and the next I can be attending a meeting. It’s so variable and there is always something interesting on the horizon (even if the constant meetings can get a bit tedious!).

Best advice for the next generation

Do what makes you happy. If you enjoy working things out them STEM could be the career for you. Ask questions, get involved but most of all, be yourself!

Fun fact

My other passion is science communication and I’ve recently written an anatomy children’s book and started some outreach projects bringing anatomy and tissue engineering research into primary schools.