Christina Pagel

Bye students! thanks for all your questions - it's been brilliant!

Favourite Thing: Seeing doctors use my work to help hospitals give best possible care!



I went to St Paul’s Girls’ School in London and then went to Oxford University to study Maths (1993-1996). I worked for a while and did a part-time masters in ancient history (1997-99) and then did a PhD in Space Physics at Imperial College in London (1999-2002). [A PhD is what you do to qualify as an ‘academic’ and it’s 3 years for you to show you can find something out that noone’s ever done before! It also lets you put Dr in front of your name…] I’ve also done some more masters courses in history and physics and am currently half way through another MSc (long story)…


I’ve got 4 A-levels, one BA, one PhD, one MSc (Science masters) and 2 MAs (Arts masters), and half way through another MSc

Work History:

I worked as a computer programmer in the city for a couple of years after university until I decided I really wanted to be a scientist after all. After my PhD, I moved to Boston, America for 3 years (2002-2005) studying how electrons travel in space. In 2005, I moved back to London to work at UCL using maths in health care and have been here ever since!

Current Job:

I’m a Senior Research Fellow at the UCL Clinical Operational Research Unit. This basically means I’m a research academic who’s been doing it for a few years now!


University College London (UCL)

Me and my work

Using maths to help doctors understand more about what happens to patients.

Doctors are highly skilled at treating their patients, especially somewhere like Great Ormond Street Hospital which is one of the world’s top children’s hospitals. But they are not necessarily trained to look for patterns in what happens over lots of patients… that’s where I come in. By using maths and computer programming, I can spot patterns in what happens and use this to help doctors provide an even better service. For instance, I used several years’ worth of hospital information to help doctors at Great Ormond Street predict how many intensive care beds they would need over the next week. This helps them plan what surgeries they are going to do, what staff they need that week and when they are going to be really busy!

I’ve also recently worked on using information about all children who’ve had heart surgery in England in the last 10 years to help doctors see how they’re doing in treating patients.  We’re planning to build on  this work by looking at all the different complications that can happen after heart surgery in children. We want to understand better when and why complications happen – this would be the first time doctors & scientists have been able to do this and hopefully it will be a really exciting project!

I’ve also spent quite a lot of time working on projects to save the lives of newborn babies and mothers in India, Bangladesh & Nepal. That has mainly been about looking at data on thousands of births, trying to understand what differences there are between births where babies died and those where babies survived (such as really basic things like using soap or clean sheets). This has  really brought home to me how lucky we are in the UK. This is a picture of a workshop I ran last September in Nepal teaching local charities who work with our university on how to do some of this stuff… myimage4

My Typical Day

Meeting with doctors, writing computer programs, chatting to colleagues about how we’re going to tackle problems…

I normally work on about 3 to 5 projects at once – this definitely keeps life interesting…and busy!

In a typical day, I would probably meet with people I’m working with on a project – for instance intensive care doctors at Great Ormond Street or other academics. In  that, we’d look at some patterns I’ve found (with graphs similar to what you might be drawing in science lessons) and discuss what they might mean and where to go next with the work.

If I’m at the beginning of a project, I might spend some time trying to write down the important aspects in equation form – writing down what the main relationships are – e.g. how long patients stay in hospital combined with how many come in and what they come in for can tell you a lot about how many beds you’ll need. This is where being able to do algebra and move equations around as second nature is crucial – but it’s like riding a bike, once you’ve learned and can do it (through practice!!), you stop thinking about *how* you do it…

I’d probably also spend some time writing computer programs to help me look data in different ways to try to spot patterns. This might be putting any equations we’ve developed into computer code but also a lot of this is built on some of things you might learn at maths A-level (probability & stats).

Then there’s writing about my work for academic journals – this is like writing really formal essays that get ‘marked’ by other academics. If they agree with what you’ve done, then it gets published and your work is out there for other scientists to use and build on. As well as that, I also give about talks every month or two to various audiences. Both are a really key part of being a research scientist, since this how other people see what you do…

Finally, I also need to write a *lot* of emails keeping track of the different projects and chat a lot to my colleagues about projects and what’s going on – all my work is done as part of a team and I love bouncing ideas off people and getting ideas of what to try to next.

What I'd do with the money

Make a practical (and fun!) maths lesson that teachers can download to work through with students about how maths can be used in hospitals.

The maths you learn at school is absolutely crucial in setting you up to use maths in later life – and it’s also important for all sorts of other life skills like how to think logically through a problem or understand how one thing might affect another… But, getting through all the stuff you need to learn to do maths well  can make maths seem really unrelated to real life and I guess, a bit pointless.

I want to spend the money on making a maths lesson that teachers can download to use for their classes. The lesson would be be about thinking through some practical problems, based on actual things I’ve worked on with hospitals, and how the maths you learn at school can be really useful in solving these problems. Maths can also seem quite scary to some people because it looks like a different language – in going through the lesson I hope to make maths a bit less mysterious!

I hope that this will help answer the question “what is the point of learning all this abstract stuff??” and also make maths a bit less scary!

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Adventurous, happy, outgoing.

Who is your favourite singer or band?


What's your favourite food?

Definitely pasta and tomato sauce. And cheese. And bread.

What is the most fun thing you've done?

Going down really narrow sandstone canyons in the American desert

What did you want to be after you left school?

An astronaut or a physicist

Were you ever in trouble in at school?

No – or only for talking too much in class

What was your favourite subject at school?

Maths (but only A-level) & History were joint favourites

What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?

Work I did on heart surgery in children last year is now being used at every UK hospital – that’s really satisfying.

What or who inspired you to become a scientist?

My brother – he was much older than me and told me all the interesting stuff when GCSEs weren’t very exciting…

If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?

Can I say medical doctor? That would have been good. Or else working for Google…

If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!

One day I really want to live in Sweden or Norway – they’re amazing countries. Oh and I’d love to be able to speak Spanish! At some point, I’d love to volunteer abroad for a few years with my husband. I feel like I’ve been really lucky in life and would like to give back somehow – just have to work out what skills I have that would actually be useful!? Sadly, (or luckily?), I think my job is great and don’t have any work related wishes…

Tell us a joke.

As a mathmo got to be this one: “What did zero say to eight?” “Nice Belt”.

Other stuff

Work photos:

I don’t have any cool lab photos – to prove my point here is a picture of my glamorous office 🙂 myimage5

And it wouldn’t be right to put up pictures of patients in hospital… But I have put up some pictures of going down the canyons in America last summer because it was such an amazing experience…

myimage1 myimage2

And here’s a picture of me doing a charity run dressed as Santa in London last December…