The path to footwear design
As manager of footwear innovation at PUMA's North American office in Boston, Massachusetts, Laura Healey uses her biomechanics expertise to create enhanced performance footwear. Along with a team of designers and engineers, Laura helps develop the innovation and concepts that will be used in Puma's athletic footwear in the future. By talking to and working with top athletes, Laura and the innovation team can obtain feedback and input on their needs and wants from footwear."I get to talk to top athletes, get their feedback and it's really important stuff. It's also really cool, I love it. It really is 'dream job' material." Often working in collaboration with researchers from other universities, Laura and her team also ensure that the new ideas they develop are based on new and detailed research.
"I get to talk to top athletes and get their feedback on footwear design. It really is 'dream job' material."
It was during her undergrad at Queen's university in Kingston, Ontario that Laura was first exposed to biomechanics. Taking a biomechanics course really opened the field to her and she started to build links between what she was learning in the classroom, her personal interests, and ideas for a future career. Even at this early stage she knew that footwear research was something that she wanted to do. She connected with Professor Steve Fischer in the Department of Kinesiology and Health Sciences at the University of Waterloo. With Steve as her supervisor, she took advantage of the rigorous academic program in Kinesiology that the University of Waterloo is known for. "I appreciated the fundamental science that we were taught. Coming out of the program with a really strong background in biomechanics was definitely helpful — it gave me confidence right away to be able to run a lab in my first role after graduating."
Having the courage to make new connections
Laura's first job after graduating was in the footwear research lab at the University of Massachusetts. Laura attended a biomechanics conference in the final year of her master's and had done her research on the presenters. Spotting a potential networking opportunity, she approached a professor from the University of Massachusetts who was doing a presentation, knowing that his specialist area was footwear research. From there, she started a position in the research lab that exposed her to a wider network that helped her land her position at PUMA. "It was on one of the last days of the conference that I built up enough confidence to just go up to someone I didn't know and introduce myself. I'm so glad I did!"
Laura's clear vision about her career goals helped her get the most out of her master's program and capitalize on opportunities that forged a successful career path. Just a year after graduating, she's embarking on a trajectory that she only dreamed of just a few years ago. As pandemic travel options are starting to open, the next year will mean that Laura is able to travel to Germany — PUMA's head office — and finally meet the team that she's been connecting with virtually until now.
Laura's advice for students thinking about doing a grad degree:
1) "Be open about what your goals are for grad school. Don't be afraid to talk to potential supervisors about things you'd like to achieve. They may have connections that can help you get there."
2) "Talk to the other graduate students in the lab or program. They'll give you a good sense of the culture of the lab and the supervisor from the student's point of view."