Halfway through, but not half completed – Kern Cowell

Written by Kern Cowell

Halfway through, but not half completed 

Getting to the halfway milestone of my PhD has suddenly made the reality of what I am undertaking sink in. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to do a PhD before I started it and in a way, that feeling of knowing I could leave at any point and get a job, or just get out of this mammoth undertaking, was extremely comforting. But now at this halfway point, I know I need to finish. I have a year and a half to test my machine, figure out what the other three chapters worth of research are going to be and somehow collate all the designing, building, testing and problem solving into a cohesive thesis, that a few poor academics have to read before I don my garish robes to walk out of education for the first time in 22 years! 

Now it’s not all negative, in a lot of ways I love doing a PhD, I know it’s a cliché but in this job every day is different! Some days I’m coding, others I’m culturing cells or doing dissection and a lot of the time I spend the whole day reading papers. But within all that, and my favourite bit of it all is that I spend most of my time-solving problems and that is just fantastic. 

About my research 

I have made a machine, it’s taken half of my PhD and it isn’t pretty*, but it does the job (or so I’m hoping, it’s currently in its first full run). So, what is that job? The machine removes cells and DNA from tissue such as bone to leave behind a scaffold of the non-cellular material which once implanted should allow the patient’s own cells to infiltrate. The process is more officially known as decellularisation. The aim of this machine is to get us one step closer to being able to provide these scaffolds to patients around the world. Giving them a new option for replacing tissue that doesn’t cause an immune reaction and should regenerate and grow like their own tissue.  

Kern Cowell

Kern Cowell

A bit of advice 

Some advice I would give to anyone starting a PhD or thinking of doing one is that I’ve found this “one step closer” idea is the key mantra to remind yourself of, it just helps you stop yourself from getting overwhelmed. You have to remember there is no pressure to do ALL the research in three years. A PhD is just a great opportunity to spend a few years really delving deep into a subject, doing research you wouldn’t be able to otherwise, gaining skills and ways of thinking that will help you for the rest of your life and adding a tiny amount to the vast expanse of knowledge that we have as a human race… and if we didn’t have to write it all up into a thesis, it would be a perfect way to spend three years! 





Kern Cowell
I have a first class Master of Engineering degree in Mechanical Engineering with Biomedical Engineering from Newcastle University and have just started the CDT in September 2017. What attracted you...
View profile