Heather McLaren

Why did you choose to undertake a PhD at the University of Leeds?

The range and quality of the equipment, the high profile of the researchers and the friendliness of the department were all clear to see when it became possible to apply for a PhD. What sealed the deal was being offered a place in the Centre for Doctoral Training in Integrated Tribology (iT-CDT) – the way new students are taken in as a group and given lots of training and variety, all with a view to producing expert engineers to go out and work in industry, really appealed to me. It seemed a lot less scary than starting a PhD alone!

Tell us about your research

Tribology looks at surfaces that touch and rub together, and my particular area is polymer (plastic) and composite tribology. I've only just started, as I'm still in the training year of the CDT, but I'm starting to focus on ball bearings made from polymers. It's quite a new research area so there are lots of opportunities to study something interesting – I’m particularly keen on applications that involve extreme environments, such as space or underwater. Eventually I hope I'll get to investigate ways of making polymer or composite bearings suitable for use in those kinds of environments.

What is your favourite part of doing your research at Leeds?

It's definitely the fact that I'm in a CDT. I share an office with others at the same stage as myself, and the previous year students are around to ask for help when needed. I think that through the CDT we build good working relationships with the academics and get a lot of opportunities to travel and try different projects.

What activities do you take part in outside of your research studies?

Within the university I’m involved in the Mechanical Engineering Postgraduate Society committee which helps to integrate postgraduates from across the different research institutes. I also write articles for the university science magazine and I’m involved in some outreach activities with primary schools. In my spare time I sing in a choir, volunteer in my church and I really enjoy art and handicrafts. The university has been a big help in being more active - I often go swimming at The Edge and the Get Out Get Active programme has allowed me to try loads of new things like hiking, track cycling and kayaking.

What are your ambitions for the future?

Broadly speaking, I'd like to work in industry doing something practical and experimental. As polymer and composite tribology is still quite a small area I hope to be able to make a real, positive impact in areas of industry that could benefit from these materials. Being able to make something useful that could go into space or to the bottom of the ocean would be great fun!

Do you have any advice to anyone considering coming to Leeds?

I highly recommend doing research and I think a CDT in any area is a great way to start. Be brave – take any opportunity that comes your way, whether in research or in your free time. You never know where it might take you!