Day in the Life: Mazen Al-Hajjar – seeking new experiences to broaden horizons
July 7, 2014
The ‘Day in the Life’ series of blog posts gives an insight into some of the people roles that support the delivery of the MeDe Innovation research challenges.
The first ‘day in the life’ post comes from Dr Mazen Al Hajjar, a Senior Research Fellow working on tribology of hip replacement at the University of Leeds.
Around 80,000 total hip replacements are carried out in the UK each year. More than 1 in 10 of them are revisions after the hip replacement has failed (National Joint Registry for England and Wales, 2013). The components often fail due to wear of the bearing surface over time; sometimes it’s down to dislocation or high wear due to poorly-placed components.
I am a senior research fellow working on tribology of hip replacement – the science of wear, friction and lubrication. What we want to achieve is to prolong the lifetime of the hip replacement with designs that can last the lifetime of a young active patient.
At the moment the standard preclinical testing method for the prosthesis is under generic, perfect conditions. I focus on advancing the pre-clinical testing methodologies to test the new designs under more physiological conditions which will help us achieve safer more reliable implants.
Discovering teamwork and timescales in industry
I’ve been at the University of Leeds since 2008, working as a postdoctoral researcher since October 2012 after being awarded my PhD. I felt like I had come to a crossroads and wasn’t sure where I wanted my career to take me – industry or academia? Although I previously completed a one year long student placement in industry (DePuy Synthes), I’d never worked in a lead product development role in industry before and wasn’t sure what to expect – but knew it was something worth exploring, so I asked for work experience at the global orthopaedics manufacturer DePuy Synthes. It started as a few weeks, but through conversations we decided to make it 30% of my time for a year – 1.5 days per week. I’ve been working there since January and it’s really made me realise how complex the product development process is, and how small but significant the science is within that process. The experience is valuable to me understanding the context of my research in the bigger picture. What I do at DePuy is one tiny part of product development that is probably several years away from the research getting to market. I also enjoy working as part of a team there. We’re all essential to the delivery of success of something that is a joint effort, which is a contrast to my role at the University that feels more autonomous.
Worldly experiences through global travelling fellowship
I’ve also recently gained some significant experience from winning a place on the BORS International Fellowship. I spent four weeks on placements across the USA, Australia, Hong Kong, China and Germany with fellow winners (three winners in the UK) from surgical and biological backgrounds. It was a significant opportunity to understand how different countries do research and what else is going on globally in our focus area – how labs are set up, their priorities, what opportunities there might be. Personally, I was also really keen to build up my connections for collaborations too; and the highlight was meeting so many researchers – it was key for me – building connections in different countries and understanding the differences in how we work.
I think I am quite an opportunistic person. I work hard and I am very career focussed, but where opportunities arise to gain experience outside my day-to-day role I will try to find a way to be involved: it could benefit my own future career but also learn how to be better at what I do now.