Alumni profile - Dr Harry Hothi
I’m now the Implant Science Fellow at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital (RNOH) where I lead the engineering research into understanding why knee, hip and spine implants fail. I’m also the Engineering Director of the London Implant Retrieval Centre (LIRC) which continues to have a particular focus on metal hip replacements. Outside of this, I’m also one of the co-founders of DiscoverPhDs!
What was your PhD about and what sparked your interest in this specific area of research? I gained my PhD in 2012 within the School of Engineering and Materials Science (SEMS) at Queen Mary, University of London. My research was focussed on better understanding how the ‘socket’ component of a metal ‘ball and socket’ hip replacement implant deforms and changes shape as the surgeon performs the operation on a patient. My project was funded jointly by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and DePuy Synthes, an orthopaedic implant manufacturer. The research involved a lot of finite element modelling and experimental work in the lab to validate the FE models.
Why did you choose to study your PhD at Queen Mary in particular? I first came to Queen Mary the year before starting my PhD, to study on an MSc in Biomedical Engineering. What attracted me to Queen Mary was the strong track-record it has in biomedical engineering research that is more MSK and implant based. It was one of only a handful of universities across the country that offered this balance, with others focussing more on the cell biology or tissue engineering side of research (which I was personally less interested in).
I knew from the start that I wanted to do a PhD and the decision to do this at Queen Mary was easy – I had supervisors that I got on with and who had the same research interest as me, Queen Mary had a strong collaboration going with the largest orthopaedic manufacturer in the world (DePuy), there was an opportunity for me as an engineer to work closely with surgeons and lastly, there was funding!
Can you describe your path after completing your PhD and what you do now? After finishing my PhD I took a bit of time to work out exactly what I wanted to do next after seven years of university study. I explored options outside of academia, particularly in the financial sector and spoke to a lot of people within that industry – I soon realised it wasn’t for me!
I was fortunate to have the opportunity to continue working with a team of orthopaedic surgeons and engineers that I’d collaborated with towards the end of my PhD, at the time focussing on investigating why metal hip replacements failed in patients. I continued to develop my career in that space and I’m now the Implant Science Fellow at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital (RNOH) where I lead the engineering research into understanding why knee, hip and spine implants fail. I’m also the Engineering Director of the London Implant Retrieval Centre (LIRC) which continues to have a particular focus on metal hip replacements. Outside of this, I’m also one of the co-founders of DiscoverPhDs!
How has your PhD from Queen Mary helped your career and development? Having a PhD has definitely positively impacted my career development, especially as I’ve carried on working within the same research field. I learnt and developed a lot of transferable skills during my time as a PhD student, including getting better at strict time management and working with experts from different disciplines (e.g. engineering and medicine). In terms of career development, a PhD has been a requirement to progress to each stage and it’s also meant that I’ve been able to supervise PhD students myself. I’d say the biggest impact has been in the number of collaborators that it’s helped me develop, both within the UK and internationally – this has helped us publish a lot of papers together but also makes the research fun!
Why would you recommend doing a PhD? Do you think you have to come from a purely academic background in order to do a PhD? A PhD can be a big stepping-stone for you in your career development, whether that be continuing on in academia afterwards or developing something within industry. You should of course only commit to a PhD if you do have a genuine interest in research otherwise it won’t be a fun three years. But you should recognise that there are so many opportunities out there for you if you have a STEM PhD from a university such as Queen Mary. I know people that have continued on as lecturers, become R&D leads for medical companies, gone into finance jobs in the City and started their own businesses.
You certainly don’t need to have a purely academic background to pursue a PhD. In fact, I’d say you’re probably in a stronger position to do a PhD if you’re coming into it with experience of working in industry, outside academia. You’ll be starting your research project already equipped with the skills to work with different people, manage multiple deadlines and be a bit more ‘street-wise’ in your approach to challenges (I appreciate this is a bit of a generalisation!).
What’s one piece of advice that you’d offer prospective students considering a PhD? I’ll give a few! Firstly, get to know your potential supervisors a little bit if you can before committing to the PhD. Whilst a PhD is definitely an independent body of work, your relationship with your supervisors will have a big impact on how fun a time it is – also be proactive as a student and make sure you regularly meet them! Be clear at the start that the three year (or more) commitment to this project is a big deal, both in terms of the academic demands it’ll place on you but also in that you’ll be living off not a lot of money for that time. Go into the PhD expecting tough times when data collection doesn’t go as planned but know that it’ll be worth it when you’re done!
What’s your favourite memory from your time as a PhD student? I’d say having my research accepted for a podium presentation at the World Congress of Biomechanics – the first conference I’d submitted anything to and in fact the first conference I’d ever attended. The best part was that it was in Singapore! So my favourite memory is being able to travel by myself from London to Singapore to present my research and explore a great country which I’ve continued to visit often since then!
Lastly, do you have a favourite spot on campus? If so, where is it and why? The campus has grown and changed quite a bit since I graduated but I’d say my favourite spot would still be the labs/workshops within the SEMS buildings. This was the perfect spot for me when I was writing up my thesis as there was always a quiet side office to escape to and work on writing!