Interviews with Scientists: Maz from Have You Ever Wondered

Interviews with Scientists: Maz from Have You Ever Wondered
6 years ago

Interviews with Scientists: Maz from Have You Ever Wondered

We’re bringing you something a bit different with our latest Interviews with Scientists, and we were so happy when Maz got back to us to say she’d love to be interviewed!

Maz is not only a researcher in bioengineering and regenerative medicine, she’s also a vlogger for the YouTube channel Have You Ever Wondered (HYEW).

During her PhD at Loughborough University in collaboration with AstraZeneca, Maz worked on developing a Bioartificial Kidney device for drug testing. Since then, she has stayed in the area of bioengineering but moved onto a different organ, working on the development of bioartificial liver devices to treat liver failure. She has recently moved out of academia and is currently working at the Science Media Centre in London.

Maz loves to take part in science communication, volunteering at science fairs and being a STEM Ambassador for the East Midlands and East Scotland. She has been creating online content for her YouTube channel HYEW for two years, covering things like a typical day in the lab, women in STEM and doing stand-up comedy.

In her spare time, Maz loves to bake and go out on her motorbike (when it’s not too cold!)

Hi Maz! Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us! Firstly, what was the inspiration behind starting your YouTube channel HYEW?

The idea for HYEW was born whilst I was vacuuming my parents’ conservatory. I thought: “I wonder why…” (although I can’t remember what I was wondering), and then thought: “I wonder if people are curious about this question too? It would be neat if people had somewhere they could go to ask the stuff they wonder about and get a reply in video form.” That’s where my channel, and the name Have You Ever Wondered, came from!

What made you start vlogging (rather than blogging or tweeting) about science?

I really wanted the channel to have a casual feel to it. So people could ask anything and feel like it was a friend answering them, and they would engage more. I also think you can get lots more across with a video as opposed to writing. I also really like to make videos, which helps!

What do you hope to achieve with HYEW in the long term?

My aim for HYEW is to be a place for curious people, and to make people more curious. Where they can interact, ask questions, and get more informed about science – whether it’s a really complex issue, or something they need homework help with. I also want to have some other content apart from the educational shorts that I enjoy making, and my upcoming video series ‘Bakeology’ combine my passion for science and my love of baking!

What issues affecting life scientists are you most passionate about making a difference to with HYEW?

One of the most important issues to me is the lack of women in STEMM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths and Medicine), which prompted me to make my first parody video. The lack of female role models in science really hit me when I was a Postdoc at Edinburgh in the Mechanical Engineering Department. In my institute there was one female lecturer out of seven! I also want to talk about the pressures that face PhD students and Postdocs. It’s something which comes with huge amounts of pressure, and definitely isn’t talked about enough.

Tell us a bit about your stand-up comedy stint at Bright Club. How did that come about? Did you enjoy it?

One of my colleagues at work told me about it and it sounded like a lot of fun, so we both signed up for it together. Robin and Dan who run Bright Club Edinburgh were really nice, and helped us prepare as much as we could for the event. My first Bright Club was one of the most nerve-wracking things I’ve done, and I was so relieved when people started laughing! After I came off stage I was pumped with adrenaline, and loved it so much I decided to do it again!

Do you think you'll do more stand-up, or stick to science?

I may not be the best stand-up comedian, but I really enjoyed Bright Club so I wouldn’t rule out another one or something like it in the future. I think I’ll have to find some better jokes first though!

What's your favourite science joke?

There’s so many which tickle me, but a classic is “What does a subatomic duck say... Quark!”

I’m easily pleased.

What are the biggest lessons you've learned from doing HYEW?

The technical side of making videos is massive, and is something I’ve had to learn as I go along. Doing research, planning formats, filming, and editing takes a lot of time too, so it can be hard to balance work with the amount of content I want to make.

How does having a project like HYEW help your research career?

I think public engagement is really important when you’re a researcher. This doesn’t mean doing tons of events a year (because researchers are busy with their research) but because lots of research is funded by the taxpayer through research organisations, it’s really important to be able to get the essence of your research across to the public. Doing HYEW has really helped me with this, as well as boosting my presentation skills, which is great for lectures and conferences!

What was your PhD in?

My PhD was developing a Bioartificial Kidney device for drug testing. This basically means making a device which mimics a part of the body important for drug processing, and then putting kidney cells in the device so it does all the important tasks! It was really cool because it covered loads of areas like pharmacology, biology, making synthetic membranes and designing bioreactors (devices which grow cells!). I was also sponsored by a pharmaceutical company called AstraZeneca which was awesome, because I got to do part of my project at their research site and learn all about the industrial research and development. I didn’t manage to get the device totally finished, but there’s someone else carrying on the project at Loughborough, so hopefully it will be used in drug development in the future!

Did you always want to be a scientist when you were younger, and why?

I’ve always been curious about stuff, and my mum did her degree in Biomolecular Science, so she was really good at nurturing that curiosity as I grew up. So although I didn’t think of being a scientist when I was younger (I wanted to be a doctor), I’ve always wanted to learn about how stuff works, which is essentially what science is all about!

What made you want to pursue a career in your particular field?

After my undergraduate degree I decided I didn’t want to go into medicine. But I was still really interested in how the body works, so I started looking for PhD projects. I stumbled across the Loughborough/AstraZeneca project and it ticked all the boxes: working on the kidney, drug development, and the potential to work with stem cells.

After my PhD I decided I really liked the field of bioengineering and regenerative medicine, so I did a few Postdocs in that field but changing the organ I was working on.

What advice would you give to someone just starting their PhD?

PhDs are crazy which a lot of people don’t realise until they start. That’s why I did a video on my channel about my PhD process including some tips that I’ve learnt from doing mine. The main advice I would give is:

1) Be prepared to do a lot of reading. You’re going to be an expert on your project, but to get there you need to know what’s been done before. So put in the hours at the start familiarising yourself with the field.

2) Don’t be afraid to ask questions. You might feel intimidated in a big research group to speak up, but the only way to get your head around some fairly complicated stuff is to ask people. And usually other PhD students and Postdocs are more than happy to help!

3) Don’t be afraid to talk. Your PhD is probably one of the most stressful things you will ever do. So make sure you take time out regularly to de-stress, and make sure you have someone to vent to when you need to! So many people who go through PhDs will experience mental health issues at some point (myself included), so it’s super important to talk.

Tell us a bit more about what you’re working on at the moment...

My Postdoc project ended about a month ago, so I’m actually working at the Science Media Centre in London. They’re an independent press office focusing on communicating robust science to journalists so that accurate information is relayed to the public. It’s been a great experience so far, seeing how academic research is promoted, and how that gets through to the mainstream media. I even got to go to the BBC studios and meet the editorial team behind The Today programme, which was really cool!

What does a typical day in the lab look like for you?

This is something I’ve covered in my ‘Life of a Scientist’ videos, around both Loughborough and Edinburgh, where I basically vlogged my day. As a Postdoc, my workload would change all the time depending on how my project was going. So one day I might be fully in the lab, 3D printing devices, making synthetic polymer sheets for cells to grow on, or doing big experiments where I grew my cells in devices. Other times I would be writing papers and working on grant applications. That was one of the great things about research, there was a lot of variety!

What is it about your field of research that gets you most excited?

What I love about the field of Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine is you can see that what you’re working on will have an impact in helping people in the really near future. It’s also a relatively new field, and one which brings together lots of different areas. So for a ‘jack-of-all-trades’ person like me, it’s ideal! One of the coolest things I saw in the lab was some embryonic stem cells which had spontaneously turned into different types of cells in the same flask. There were even beating clumps of cells in different areas of the flasks! It was awesome.

Which scientists working today do you most admire, and why?

In my field, I really admire Dr Marianne Ellis. She’s a Biochemical Engineer at the University of Bath and is involved with some great research in Tissue Engineering. She’s also really lovely and will take time to help people out, including me when I was doing my PhD! Celebrity wise, I love Brian Cox because he’s great at communicating science and is really helping younger people get into STEMM.


Thank you Maz for an amazing interview! We’re excited to see what you achieve with HYEW, and wish you the very best with all your fantastic projects!

If you want to connect with Maz and find out more about Have You Ever Wondered, here are the links you need:





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