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News > Science, Technology & Medicine > Tonbridge's Scientists: Alex Aarvold

Tonbridge's Scientists: Alex Aarvold

OTs answer: What can I do with my science degree?
2019 has been an extraordinary year for Science at Tonbridge. To mark the opening of the new Barton Science Centre, we asked Old Tonbridgians with a science background to write to us with their story. In the next pages, we hear from 9 OTs, whose experience demonstrate the wide range of job options available to science graduates, and many of whom have exploited the positive characteristics of their science-trained brains in some unexpected sectors. 

Consultant Paediatric Orthopaedic Surgeon & Honorary Associate Professor, University of Southampton

A career in research has come to me partly by accident, but to be in a role that furthers medical science is incredibly rewarding. At Tonbridge I chose all the sciences for A-level, and regretted it on day one of L6th when I saw my timetable – double chemistry or physics EVERY day. However those years were fabulous and I had great teaching from the likes of Messrs Saunders, Todd, Prosser, Briggs, Belbin, Bull, King, Marsden. 

I studied medicine at Edinburgh, though my studies played second fiddle to sports. I captained various teams at school, uni and club level and learnt more about teamwork than medicine. The focus of my early doctor years, in Scotland and Australia, could certainly have been more wisely spent.  

Six months working in Nairobi opened my eyes to the value of research. I worked in HIV clinics in the slums, for the charity Nyumbani, taking HIV tests from over 3000 children. The tests revealed a severity of AIDS that, in 2004, was as severe as anything known about. With no access to HIV medicines then, every week we saw more of these children were dying. My statistical and writing skills at the time were basic, so the work was never published. However, the data we collected was used to help the charity secure international funds for anti-retroviral medication. The death rate plummeted. 


"Six months working in Nairobi opened my eyes to the value of research."

I returned to the UK to start surgical training in 2005, which has taken me to Oxford, London, Wessex and Canada. One of the oddities of medicine is that research is heavily valued to secure promotions, despite not necessarily being relevant to how good a doctor one is. So I wrote a few papers with the single incentive of helping my surgical career. However, 2007 brought a political shake up of medical training (‘Modernising Medical Careers’), fondly known in the profession as ‘Murdering Medical Careers’. I was one of many aspiring surgical trainees cast into the wilderness, so I found a job in a lab looking down a microscope at stem cells. 

The team I joined at Southampton University is fantastic. Those few years have resulted in me publishing a dozen research papers, presenting our work around the world, winning The Scientist Award 2011 for our development of a stem cell concentrator, pictured below, for tissue engineering (beating, amongst others, the designers of Amy Williams’ Olympic Gold skeleton sled and a military automatic landing device for helicopters) and was awarded The Syme Medal by the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh for my thesis on tissue engineering. 

On returning to surgical training, I could use my new found research skills to help others develop their projects for those sought after publications required for promotion. My CV accidently became as research orientated as it was surgical. With such rewards from research I have strived to continue this alongside clinical work. The focus of my research is now on clinical trials and studies on hip dysplasia, Perthes disease, cerebral palsy and osteonecrosis, which perfectly matches my clinical practice. The two complement each other nicely, though there are competing demands on time. 

I have worked with far more intelligent and far better researchers than me through school, Uni and work. However, as in so many walks of life, working together in teams and working hard is as important as any skill set. Now I am supervising research projects with medical students, trainee doctors and international collaborators, those characteristics I developed on the sports fields appear not so wasted after all.

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