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Murray Edwards College
University of Cambridge

Career Path: Finding a Voice in Science

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    02 Feb

    Not long ago, I struggled to define what a scientist was, the career opportunities available to them, or even the academic process to become one. My introduction to the world of research came by chance. During my undergraduate degree I found myself volunteering to aid a professor with some laboratory work, despite barely considering involving myself in research outside of the classroom prior. Regardless, my first day in the laboratory has etched itself in my mind, and it was this moment that proved to be monumental to both my professional and personal growth.

    I am a PhD student in the NIH-OxCam program, meaning I spend half my PhD at the University of Cambridge and the remaining half at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, USA. In this program, I am posed with a unique opportunity to the merge the expertise of two entirely separate laboratories to accomplish one goal. While in Cambridge, my research focuses understanding how mutations in an important tumour suppressor protein leads to loss of the cell’s ability to properly control cellular organization and division. My research at the NIH takes this a step further and aims to characterize the mechanism by which loss of these functions results in the extrusion of cancer cells from the initial tumour site, potentially leading to metastasis. The intricacy of cancer biology fascinates me, and it is surreal knowing that my research has potential to directly benefit patients down the line.

    The unique focus of each laboratory immerses me in two distinct areas of research, broadening my usage of laboratory techniques and understanding of cell biology. However, apart from the skills and knowledge I gain in laboratory, I also am faced with a novel type of training, one that involves strengthening my interpersonal skills and communication. The success of my project relies on the ability of me to coordinate between two laboratories, on two different continents. Maintaining this channel of communication between both institutes is a skill that I hope to refine and develop during my time at Cambridge and utilize for years to come.

    Growing as a scientist has accompanied a gradual transition from a quiet and reserved student to an individual comfortable to vocalize their opinions, even when they contrast the status quo. The success of my thesis project relies on my willingness to defend my ideas, often to experts in the field. Right now, I feel empowered knowing that I have a direct influence on the success of my project, and thankfully I am supported by scientists who support my thoughts and creativity. Understanding how to respectfully disagree with a set plan while offering a new path to the resolution is an empowering skill, applicable to my life inside the laboratory and outside. My scientific journey has fostered my passion and understanding for science while enabling me to develop into a strong individual that understands my own capabilities, and I am excited to continue this trend through my time at Cambridge.

    Grace Perry
    PhD Student, Murray Edwards College