Interview with Marceli Wac

Marceli Wac headshot

Marceli is a second year CDT student, in the Engineering stream. Originally from Poland, his background is in software engineering and tech startups. He is working to develop a new dashboard to assist healthcare professionals in managing Covid patients within the ICU, currently being trialled in Bristol Royal Infirmary.

You can find out more about Marceli's work here. 

What did you do before the CDT? How has that helped you during your studies so far?

I started working with startups in 2016 when I was finishing high school, initially taking on small programming tasks which didn't need a lot of expertise; things like changing a few fields in the database or updating websites. Soon after that, I applied to do BSc in Software Engineering and began to formalise my education in computer science at Swansea University. Throughout that time I continued to work with a startup called CardioCube, which really helped me develop the skills that I think are needed to do a PhD, so time management, work hygiene and especially being able to focus on a long-term project. I was essentially working on a full time basis in my second year of undergraduate degree, which at times was challenging, but ultimately - I loved it

'I’d accumulated all this experience in healthcare in the industrial setting but I didn’t really have foundations of healthcare in general and I wanted something more concrete to mark my expertise in the field.'

What motivated you to apply for the programme?

Seeing as all of the startups I had worked with up until that point were med-tech companies - you can imagine by that point I had grown an appreciation for the healthcare industry. I’d accumulated all this experience in healthcare in the industrial setting but I didn’t really have foundations of healthcare in general and I wanted something more concrete to mark my expertise in the field. Naturally, a PhD in Digital Health looked like a perfect fit for me, so I applied.

How did you find the application process?

Applying for the PhD was naturally a very exciting experience unlike any other. We were given a tour of the offices before our interviews, which made a huge impression, and we had to give a presentation on the topic of our choice in healthcare. I think it was a great idea and really let us showcase our interests. It was also very reassuring to see how many people were excited not just about the course itself, but the digital health in general

'It was really good to get this foundation of all the challenges and issues surrounding healthcare. It was good for me to learn about things like anatomy and the science behind health conditions because it gave me a better idea of what I’m actually dealing with rather than just working on the tech side of things.'

What skills have you developed during the CDT so far? What skills are you developing now? 

The first year was a lot of studying, a lot of lectures and a lot of time spent on campus. It was really good to get this foundation of all the challenges and issues surrounding healthcare. It was good for me to learn about things like anatomy and the science behind health conditions because it gave me a better idea of what I’m actually dealing with rather than just working on the tech side of things.

How did you go about developing your PhD project idea and finding your supervisory team? What support and resources were available to you to do this? 

I had a few ideas when I started the course as to what I might go into, I was considering maybe medical imaging, but then of course the pandemic hit and I decided I wanted to do something to help. Bristol Royal Infirmary reached out to the centre looking for someone to manage the problem of data management of COVID patients in the ICU. I volunteered my time for this, and it turned into the ICU Dashboard project, which is essentially a piece of software running in the ICU to help manage the COVID patients. As I was working on this, I realised that the ICU is a really exciting setting, generating a lot of data which is probably not being fully utilised. So, I decided to base my PhD in this field. The dashboard is now being used at the BRI and research around the software will be published soon.

My supervisory team comes from the BRI and the CDT’s supervisory network; I am working with Chris Bordeaux - an ICU consultant at the BRI, alongside University of Bristol academics Chris McWilliams and Raul Santos Rodriguez, who is a member of the CDT’s management board.

How have you found transitioning out of the first year into being a research student?

First year was great for getting a good foundation across the range of topics in digital health. I found it very useful but I'm happy and excited to begin working on my own research. I feel like I’m taking another step in focusing in on what I really enjoy, which is great.

'Whatever idea you have, no matter how specific or abstract, there will always be someone here who will be able to guide you and help with your research.'

What else have you been working on?

After I got in, but before I moved to Bristol - I got in touch with Ross Walker - someone whom I later came to call not just my flatmate and a friend, but also a business partner. Ross also studied at Swansea University and on top of that, owned a startup dealing with a problem of student accommodation. I first spoke to him when he was looking for help in building the first prototype of the application. It was not long before we moved to Bristol in the early summer and began working on the application.

Last summer, when the COVID pandemic was already a big topic, we responded to a government call for innovation and applied for a grant from the UKRI to develop a solution that enables vulnerable and self-isolating individuals to get the things like shopping or prescription pickups done without ever having to leave home. Ross came up with the name of Hyperlocal and the whole idea was focused around getting volunteers - we liked to call them heroes - from around the neighbourhood to help those in need. The application is currently deployed locally (although not in Bristol) and the early tests are underway.

What’s it like living in Bristol? What do you get up to when you’re not studying (outside of COVID)? 

It just so happened that quite a lot of us in our year are keen rock climbers, so pre-covid we would go bouldering together regularly. It was a great opportunity to meet my friends outside of university and the fact that there are quite a few places to go climbing in Bristol made it even better.

What advice would you give to people considering applying for the course?

Do it! Especially if you are interested but not sure whether your skills will be useful. There's plenty of niche areas within digital health and a lot of staff who will be able to support you, regardless of the path you choose to take. Whatever idea you have, no matter how specific or abstract, there will always be someone here who will be able to guide you and help with your research.

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