Lecturer, Faculty of Medicine, Department of Surgery & Cancer, Imperial College London, UK
Challenges? Ultimately, I think the biggest challenge we face is the public perception of science, which should lead, one would hope, to the public support of science. Despite having come through a global pandemic on the back of biomedical science, the public perception of science seems more strained than ever. We might feel a little removed from the public but, as the field develops and as we translate instrumentation and techniques out of our labs into the clinic or the home, we will inevitably be faced squarely with public attitudes and perceptions. There are too many issues feeding into this problem, but soaring costs of education and public perceptions are key factors. It will take collective action; as scientists, we need to think about how our roles extend beyond academe and what responsibility we have, or are willing to have, in the foundational aspects of science education and the public perception of science. Does this mean more or different approaches to outreach? Does this require a scientific body more engaged with policy, actively calling on our governments to accelerate investment in science and science teaching? I’m not sure.
Secret to success? Depends how early! I was lucky to do my PhD in a lab where we were focused on something that hadn’t been done before – single cell proteomics – and I suppose we had the freedom to make mistakes in breaking new ground. Common threads have been great mentors and curiosity. I remember early on in my PhD joining Andrew de Mello’s group meetings – I wasn’t his student but was curious about microfluidics and wanted to learn everything about physics and chemistry at the microscale. Microfluidics quickly became central to my research. I once thanked Andrew for taking the time to read my thesis and how he’d been even more thorough than some of my official supervisors. Judging by his shock, I don’t think he’d actually realized I wasn’t one of his students and that he’d inadvertently adopted me! My independent career has benefited hugely from entrepreneurship through which I’ve learnt how to deliver scientific innovation commercially and drive impact.
Advice? Have curiosity and ambition for what might be achievable. You’ll be surprised how prevalent and ingrained dogma is and how fresh eyes will bring about fresh (better!) approaches.