• Francisco Guerra

A Roller Coaster Opportunity


----- Roller coasters are designed to give you a thrill, to make you feel that you’re in danger. It’s normal to be nervous, but you will enjoy the ride! -----

In the line for the ticket

As a biomedical engineer looking for a job in the European Health-Tech industry, I was having trouble finding opportunities. The number of start-ups in the field is growing, but the job offers in the research and development (R&D) departments are few and highly selective. The process of searching for a position can be a long and frustrating road. Once I realized that most of the R&D work within these companies involved the collaboration with universities or research institutes, the option of doing an industrial PhD went from Plan B to Plan A. I would get the opportunity to carry out an application-oriented research project and gain a career profile that would be attractive both in and out of the academic sector.

An opportunity came up to become part of the European project in Connected Health technologies for cancer - CATCH - and there was no way I would refuse such an exciting offer… It involved:

  • Contributing to the ‘fight against Cancer’ by creating tools to support patients and survivors (Topics: eHealth, gamification, physical activity promotion and Cancer research);

  • Being an employee of a digital health company - Salumedia (Seville, Spain) and being enrolled as a PhD student in a research centre at the University College Dublin - Insight Centre (Dublin, Ireland);

  • A plan of 3 years including: academic and professional skill training; building a large international network of contacts; creating new research collaborations; living in two different countries; and working at 4 different institutions (a company, a research centre, a clinic and a hospital).

I had no doubt this was the ticket I needed for a promising career development and, so far, the ride has been nothing short of an adventure. And the cool thing is… it’s just starting!

Entering the coaster car and adjusting the security harness

Once I first arrived to Salumedia I had a warm welcome that set me up for a comfortable start. I was motivated to learn from the team members who were experts in scientific research and that collaborated with other institutions in different projects. Also, I was fortunate to meet two other PhD students from another European research project - CHESS - who were part of the team and gave me some useful advice.

Starting the ride – ‘hold tight!’

Besides learning exciting stuff about digital health, my first months were marked by:

  • Helping in a gamification workshop at the University of Oulu;

  • Being involved in the first steps of the design process of a mobile application for prostate cancer patients – where I’ve learned about patient-centred design, ideation techniques, and prototyping tools;

  • Meeting with experts in cancer (oncologists, psycho-oncologists and sports science professionals);

  • Doing focus groups with cancer patients;

  • Attending a project/business meeting with a big pharmaceutical company;

  • Writing my first conference article as first author;

  • Being part of a special track panel for a scientific conference;

  • Visiting Dublin to attend an Augmented Human Demonstrator Event organized by the Insight Centre - an opportunity to see the place where I will be spending part of my PhD; to learn about the research projects being conducted there; and to meet my supervisors and other PhD students.

1st pic - Workshop at University of Oulu (Finland) with Guido Giunti and Vasiliki Mylonopoulou (the CHESS ESRs I met at Salumedia); 2nd pic - Augmented Human Event in Dublin (Ireland); 3rd pic - 4 of the 8 CATCH ESRs: Gabriel Signorelli, Louise Brennan, Me and Gillian O’Neill.

That long and slow way up

During this time, I needed to get my PhD project running as well. To achieve that, I’ve started an ‘eternal’ process of reading, reading and reading. This is an essential step to understand the research gaps around the topic of my project and choose a motivating path in terms of academic and professional interests. Basically, trying to find the right direction for my PhD and clearly define a plan.

Before the 'AAAAAAHHHH' moment

Now… I’m right at the highest point, no way out, and about to dive deep into some crazy loops for the next 3 years. How do I feel about it? Well, it is comforting to know that my supervisors are monitoring the coaster’s operations – from regulating the ride’s speed to avoiding technical issues or track obstructions. And I’m not alone... we are a group of 8 PhDs all having a similar journey! Above all, I will be driven by the core goal of this European project – to develop technological solutions that will, hopefully, help improve the quality of life of those who suffer from Cancer.


No paella before the ride… let’s just hope the G forces don’t cause me any brain injury [1] (needed a reference in this post… PhD effect).

Life is not fun if it doesn’t challenge you right? I will sit back, relax and enjoy this journey!

[1] D. H. Smith, “Head motions while riding roller coasters: Implication for brain injury” vol. 30, no. 4, pp. 339–345, 2009.

#cancer #research #PhD #Salumedia #UCD

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