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Jack Baldwin

University of York

MPhys & PhD Computational Physics
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Big Picture

Jack works as a Principal Bioinformatician at St James’s University Hospital in Leeds in the area of clinical scientific computing in the department of Medical Physics and Clinical Engineering. “Jimmy’s”, as it is affectionately known, is internationally famous as Europe’s largest teaching hospital.

“A lot of the work we do is project based” for example the team will get a request from a clinician, doctor, medical physicist or an outside researcher and work with them; “the project could be enabling research; so gathering patient data out of clinical systems and de-identifying it so it can be used safely and securely, or it could be doing the research itself.”

“We also work with manufacturers, researchers and clinical users to implement, deploy, test and evaluate AI tools, particularly in healthcare situations, so for example auto contouring of CT scans.”

What made you choose this career path?

Having completed his studies Jack was looking how best to apply his skills: “I did some research, some looking around, talked to some friends and discovered this thing called the scientist training programme which is an NHS scheme to train clinical scientists to work for the NHS.” There are a number of specialisms within the NHS Scientists Training Programme that would be of interest to physicists.  It is a 3-year vocational course based in a hospital with on the job training resulting in a Masters in clinical science.

“I was able to take all the training, learning and skills I’d built up in physics and apply them to healthcare. I basically discovered it and then instantly fell in love with it, that was the exact sort of thing I wanted to be doing!”

How do you use your skills from university in your role?

In research projects statistical modelling is often used, for example in a project looking at more effectively treating a specific type of brain tumour “we looked at using monte carlo methods of random walks to predict where cancer cells would end up based on where water flows within the brain.” 

Jack goes on to explain that statistical methods are integral in healthcare due to the incomplete nature of data in the real world compared to pure physics; for example “you end up having to do a lot more t-tests”. 

“There’s a really big, what we call, implementation gap between what is done in academia and what sees clinical use.  We can use biophysical techniques and biophysical tools to try and understand what AI could do, trying to understand how it would work clinically so we can then implement it and evaluate it properly.”

What advice would you give to students wanting to work in this industry?

Jack notes that it’s really important to have an appreciation that real world data is going to be “messy” compared to what you see in pure physics. On a more practical level check out the National School of Healthcare Science and their STP programme.  Finally, try and build up an introductory understanding of some scientific computing techniques such as coding.  “Python is the go-to language now in the NHS, it’s open source, it’s free, it’s very easy to pick up.”

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