Sheona Isobel Shankland

PhD researcher at Lancaster University


Don't think about the endgame. Choose to study things that excite you and that you find interesting.

What do you do?

A PhD is a different experience for everyone, but I think of it as an opportunity to work at something I love in a learning environment.
In my PhD I am using light to understand the skeleton as it develops. Using a special laser I am investigating the chemistry of growing bones to see if any changes in mineralisation can be attributed to development or diseases.

Why did you choose this field?

I am proud to come from a line of female scientists with my Nana being one of only two female graduates in her year from Pharmacy at The University of Glasgow, my great auntie working at Bletchley Park during WWII, and my Mum being a respected clinical mycologist; science was kind of in my blood!

I have always been fascinated by how the human body works and allows us to go about our daily lives. The first time I really looked at a teaching skeleton in a biology class at school I remember thinking how amazing it was that every angle and curve and bump had a specific purpose. Our teacher explaining how the blueprint for the human body involved such a vast set of specific protocols for things we didn't even understand yet had me hooked.
To this day I still think that the human skeleton is the most beautiful feat of nature's engineering and I will never be bored studying it.

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

I think my entire higher education route! Whilst science was always something I loved, my school weren't that great at encouraging science careers that weren't Medicine. I think being an Anatomist isn't a well known career path and a lot of people kind of end up in it accidentally!

I actually started off doing Biomedical science at undergraduate level and wasn't really enjoying it. When I spoke to my adviser of studies I remember him asking me what I liked about science and why I wasn't enjoying the course. He then sent me to have a chat with the Head of Anatomy to see what I thought about that branch of science. It was a pivotal moment of my life: everything we talked about seemed so interesting and he spoke about it with such passion that I thought 'yes, this is where I want to focus my scientific curiosity!'. It was quite scary changing my course a year and a half in to my degree, but I am so glad that I did. If I'd known it was possible to study anatomy and apply it to other disciplines like human evolution and archaeology I probably would have chosen anatomy from the start! I am so grateful that I had advisers who helped guide me along a path I didn't even know existed during school.

Why do you love working in STEM?

Where to begin! I love how STEM is always changing: it is never stagnant. There is always something new to discover and usually using some pretty fun methods.
I also love teaching, it was never something I planned on doing and, as with most of what I do now, it just kind of happened. I adore explaining something to a student and seeing that 'light-bulb moment' when all the pieces fall in to place. Then you have these amazing, questioning conversations with someone who has this newly formed enthusiasm and just that little bit more understanding of how the world works; and a desire for it not to stop there.

Best advice for next generation?

Don't think about the endgame. Chose to study things that excite you and that you find interesting. If you do that, you can be pretty confident you'll end up in a career that you enjoy because you chose every step it took to get there.
If you do a qualification because you think you want a certain job, but then hate most of the subjects you're studying for it, you won't actually like the job!

Inspo quote / fun fact / role model

“What's for you, won't go by you.”

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