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Ms Zoe Clarke | My CSO WISE Fellowship Journey

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In May 2016, I was at home on maternity leave after having my third child. I was doing some work on International Women’s Day to keep in touch and my line manager forwarded me an advert for the CSO WISE Fellowship. I was interested straight away.

18 May 2018

I have been working for the NHS since 2001. During my engineering degree at Cardiff University I developed a keen interest in rehabilitation engineering and my first job was at Derby Hospital’s NHS Foundation Trust as a Bioengineer in their Gait Analysis Laboratory. Over the years, I have worked with Environmental Controls (technologies that enable people with disabilities to undertake every day activities in their own homes) and Electronic Assistive Technology, doing both clinical work and research, finally ending up as Environmental Control Lead, a position which I job-share.

This role involved much more leadership, and I was working with a team that had tripled in size, moved offices and covering a much bigger area. The fellowship with WISE immediately appealed because, as well as these new responsibilities, I recognised my lack of confidence.

Both the application form and the interviews were challenging. But, at both stages, the questions were invaluable for helping me think about what I had done to date, as well as what I wanted for my future career.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t successful but went away with vital feedback. It also meant I had taken time out to think about how I was going to approach returning to work and my new role.

Moving forward to 2017, and adverts started to appear for the fellowship for 2017/18. Initially I thought that nothing had really changed, but then I realised that a year had passed, I had returned to work in my new role, and the team had expanded. Also, I remembered how helpful the process had been in taking the time to think about my career.

During the application process, I attended the Leadership Day. This was an opportunity for people interested in the fellowship to have a taster of the leadership course and speak to peers, potential mentors, and WISE and CSO representatives. I came away inspired to finish my application form, motivated by the speakers and empowered by the leadership training. Fundamentally, I realised I had many more years left to work with the time to achieve the things I wanted.

In July 2017, after interviews, I found out I was one of the four fellows for the 2017/18 intake. I was excited and a little nervous. Would I be a good enough representative? Would I make best use of this opportunity?

As myself and the other fellows undertook the leadership course, we quickly bonded: our very different disciplines all had common issues and challenges. Furthermore, we were all passionate about our chosen professions and how we could push them forward.

The four-day leadership course, run by Jayne Little from Skills4, covered key topics such as communication skills, holding difficult conversations, gender specific communication, presentation skills, time management and planning future steps. I was able to take the learnings back to share with my team, as well as giving me time to refine some key aims for the coming year and build a plan for how to achieve them. It also helped me identify how my lack of confidence can manifest itself, the reasons why and what to do about it.

The CSO fellowship has offered me a huge range of opportunities. In the early period of the fellowship I was invited to present in London at IMechE HQ, a joint event with the Institution of Physics in Medicine (IPEM). I also met with the Chief Executive of my hospital and discussed potential future steps for bringing Healthcare Scientists together.

I attended the CSO Awards and met Princess Anne, which was amazing. At the CSO Conference I presented with the other fellows about our experience so far, and I particularly enjoyed speaking to other people interested in applying for the fellowship. I have taken over as Chair of the national consultation group meeting for Environmental Control: one of my key aims at the start of the fellowship. I also have contacts with NHS England to pursue regarding people with Learning Disabilities and Assistive Technology.

The fellowship has helped me to inspire other female clinical scientists in my field, both within my department and more broadly. For the first time since I have worked within the Trust we put on a display for Healthcare Science Week. I am also in the process of forming a network of Clinical Scientists who work in the field of Electronic Assistive Technology and have received positive feedback.

Another key part of the fellowship is mentoring. Now, with my two mentors in place (one NHS-based and the other industry-based), I am working on cementing my confidence and planning the future steps in my career.

My immediate aims from here are to undertake more STEM work and deliver upon the initiatives I have started, such as the network for Clinical Scientists in my field and the work with NHS England around people with Learning Disabilities. Although the fellowship is a year long I feel that its influence will be felt for the rest of my career: all 27 years of it!

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