Catherine Fontinelle



Hedingham School and Imperial College, London


A-levels in Maths, Chemistry and Biology, BSc Hons Microbiology

Work History:

Flour Grader at Dalgetys, Biomedical Scientist at St Mary’s Hospital, London, and The Whittington Hospital.

Current Job:

Senior Biomedical Scientist, Microbiology at Epsom and St Helier Hospital



Me and my work

My work smells really bad, but everyday I help make someone better.

I look at samples from patients to help diagnose their disease. It could be urine, faeces, blood, semen, sputum, pus or toenails amongst other things.

Sometimes I find bacteria or viruses that are causing infection. Sometimes I don’t, and that can also rule out an infection and lead to another medical condition being diagnosed.

I spend about a month on each sample type, or diagnostic area. At the moment, I am using PCR to diagnose Chlamydia and Gonorrhoea infection. Next month it may be food poisoning diagnosis from faeces samples.

My Typical Day

I have to manage a constant stream of samples and test them.

All my equipment must be tested before it can be used on patients, to make sure that it is working properly. I prepare any chemicals that I will need to use today. Then I check that all of my samples are correctly matched with the request forms that they arrived with.

I load my samples onto the PCR machine, together with all the others chemicals and equipment required. I start the run and use the incubation step as a chance to grab a cup of tea! My lunch break is also dictated by the testing that I am doing.

Any gaps in time are spent helping others lab sections, performing other responsibilities, such as reading the Mycology samples or marking students work, and preparing the next batch of samples to be tested the following day.

What I'd do with the money

Spend it on microscopes for local schools.

So many schools have very limited science equipment, and even a slight increase in facilities can lead to students becoming interested in something that they may not have been exposed to, without these pieces of equipment.

Having toured many secondary schools this year, I have been amazed that so much practical equipment is very outdated. It is difficult to arrange for school groups to tour working laboratories, but perhaps some of the equipment used could “visit” school science departments instead.

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Dedicated, enthusiastic, positive

Who is your favourite singer or band?

What's your favourite food?


What is the most fun thing you've done?

Performed a ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ routine

What did you want to be after you left school?

I wasn’t really sure, just something in Science

Were you ever in trouble in at school?


What was your favourite subject at school?


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

Diagnosed a very rare infection.

What or who inspired you to become a scientist?

I have always loved learning, Maths and Science were my favourites. My biology A-level teacher was a demon, but a very inspiring one. I waited a long time before deciding that Medical Microbiology was the right career check for me.

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

I don’t really want to do anything else. I love my job. If I had to do something else it would involve working with children.

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

To be able to continue in the job I love for the rest of my career time. Pay off the mortgage! Be the best that I can be!

Tell us a joke.

Why are pirates called pirates? Because they aaaargh!

Other stuff

Work photos: