International Women’s Day on Sunday 8 March 2015 is highlighting women who ‘make it happen’ by celebrating women's achievements and calling for greater equality. To mark the occasion, we interviewed nine of our inspirational researchers to find out how they #makeithappen for breast cancer research and learn more about their experiences of being a woman in science.
Sunday 15 March 2015      Research blog
kate moore at work

Dr Kate Moore

Dr Moore is a Postdoctoral Research Assistant based at Barts Cancer Institute, Queen Mary University of London. Dr Moore was initially introduced to breast cancer research after spending a year in a cancer research lab as part of her undergraduate degree working on how cancer cells talk to each other and found she became hooked!

Q. What inspired you, or continues to inspire you, to be a scientist?

 “A close family friend died late last year from one of the most aggressive types of breast cancer which I’m working on, and although it’s maddeningly frustrating that my research wasn’t able to directly benefit my friend, I know it will hopefully help other women with this disease in the near future.

“Our team has strong links with the brilliant fundraisers, and their strength and cheerful determination is amazing. Knowing that my research is directly contributing to future treatment of patients such as these incredible people continuously inspires me.”

Q. Do you think it’s important to support women in science?

“I’m very proud to be a woman in science. A lot of my friends work in office-based environments and are rather envious that rather than increasing a client’s hedge fund balance, I’m potentially helping people live longer.”

Dr Ellen Copson

Dr Copson is a Senior Lecturer in Medical Oncology at the University of Southampton, where she combines her clinical breast cancer practice with clinical research. She is particularly interested in factors which influence the effectiveness of systemic treatments for early breast cancer, such as chemotherapy:

Q. Do you think it’s important to support women in science?

“A career in science is challenging, time-consuming and frequently involves working on several different projects at once, and I think women are ideally suited to this sort of multi-tasking.

“My research time is relatively flexible compared to my clinical commitments so this makes it a really good career option for women trying to combine a satisfying career with bringing up a family – I’m currently working three days a week during the summer holidays in order to spend time with my young daughters.”

Q. What inspired you, or continues to inspire you, to be a scientist?

“I’m continuously inspired by my patients. Over the last 15 years I've met and treated hundreds of women with breast cancer in my work as an oncologist. Their courage and determination to fight cancer has made me very determined to find ways of improving current treatments for this disease, by researching the factors that can influence a patient’s response to treatment.”

Dr Maria Morgen

Dr Morgan is a Senior Lecturer in Molecular and Cellular Therapeutics at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) and a principal investigator with the RCSI Institute of Research:

Q. What inspired you, or continues to inspire you, to be a scientist?

“As a child I was always fascinated by the wonder of living things - like how swallows knew where to come back to each summer and why some plants only grew in certain places. I was curious about how things worked and loved finding out more. We had an old set of encyclopaedia at home (pre-Google era!) and I loved reading them. I developed an interest in science and eventually developed a career in it.”

Q. Do you think it is important to support women in science?

 “Yes - women scientists tend to have fewer role models in senior positions within scientific institutions. While many women undertake science and higher degrees they're still not represented at the top tiers. We need better support to ensure their retention as they progress through their careers.”

Dr Cristina Branco

Dr Branco is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physiology at the University of Cambridge, and is currently working towards the understanding of factors affecting cancer dispersion:

Q. Why are you proud to be a woman in science?

“I’m proud but also very grateful. I've been incredibly inspired and supported by both men and women in my life and career, and also been fortunate to be able to attract funding for my work. These have all been important in keeping me going at times of strain. As a divorced mother of two, I think I can (and I try to) reassure other women that it’s not impossible to be an accomplished woman, even in science, and it’s so worth it!”

Q. Are there any women in your life who have inspired you?

“My grandmother, Berta, was wise and so ahead of her time, and never told me what I should or shouldn’t do with my life. Her only advice - ‘Make sure you love it’. And a former colleague and very close friend who is creative, fearless and a dynamic scientist.”

Dr Elinor Sawyer 

Dr Elinor Sawyer is based at King’s College, London and currently splits her time between caring for patients with breast cancer and laboratory research:

Q. What inspired you, or continues to inspire you, to be a scientist?

“As an oncologist I spend the majority of my time treating and caring for women with breast cancer. I’m aware of the limitations of current treatment and my inspiration for scientific research comes from all of the patients I care for on a daily basis.”

“My sister-in-law developed breast cancer in her 30s and this has given me a lot of insight into how difficult it can be to deal with the diagnosis. It’s also made me aware of how anxious patients can be before their hospital appointments, and I hope this has made be a better and more sympathetic doctor.”

Dr Heike Laman

Dr Laman is a researcher based at the Department of Pathology at University of Cambridge, and is interested in proteins called ‘ubiquitin ligases’ and their roles in the development of cancer and in neurodegenerative diseases:

Q. How did you first get into breast cancer research?

“I’ve been interested in how cells control their growth since my PhD, when I discovered that the rate at which cells grew affected the expression of their genes. I started thinking about breast cancer because a colleague pointed out that the class of proteins I work on is frequently rearranged in breast cancer cells. We want to know why this is and what the consequences are for the cell.”

Q. What inspired you, or continues to inspire you, to be a scientist?

“Curiosity, really. I have a strong desire to understand how things work. Biology and its complexity is an endless puzzle that fascinates me. I feel fortunate to have a job that engages and challenges my mind so comprehensively.”

Dr Isabel Pires

Dr Pires is based at the University of Hull, investigating how molecules are altered in low oxygen and how this can change the way cancer cells behave, especially in relation to cancer spread:

Q. What inspired you, or continues to inspire you, to be a scientist?

“One of the main reasons I became a scientist is because I love to learn, and have done since I was very young. I’m a firm believer in the power of knowledge - only by understanding how the world works can we be empowered to change it.

Q. Why do you think it’s important to support women in science?

“In an ideal world, we would campaign to engage both young women and men to consider starting a career in science. However, it’s clear that women are still underrepresented in science, especially when we start looking at the later stages of an academic career. It’s equally as important to support female academics through their career, thus allowing more women to achieve their potential and progress to leadership roles in their field.”

Dr Niamh Buckley

Dr Buckley is a Scientific Fellow, based at Queen’s University Belfast. Her work has led to a number of significant publications and she has been the recipient of several prestigious awards including European Association of Cancer Research (EACR) Young Scientist Award 2012:

Q. What inspired you, or continues to inspire you, to be a scientist?

“When I meet people who are fighting cancer or at higher risk of developing the disease, it makes you realise that your work could mean so much to someone. It really hits home now that I am a mom and the thought of not being there for my kids is not worth thinking about!

“Any research is hard – quite often experiments don’t work or give negative results, but when you do get a good result it makes you forget about the downsides."

Q. Do you think it is important to support women in science?

"I know as a working mom it's hard to juggle home and work life. Science requires real dedication and quite often long hours or weekend work which is difficult with a family. I think women aren’t great at 'talking themselves up'; and will look to their faults rather than their strengths. Therefore support for women in science is crucial.”

Professor Diana Harcourt

Professor Harcourt is based at the University of the West of England and has over 15 years’ experience of researching the psychosocial aspects of breast cancer. Her research has also examined the experiences of Black and South Asian women and those diagnosed with DCIS:

Q. What do you consider your key success/successes?

“Identifying ways of supporting women contemplating breast reconstruction as health professionals are increasingly aware that it can be difficult for women to decide whether or not to have reconstructive surgery and the outcomes aren’t always what they’d hoped for. Health psychologists have an important role to play in helping patients and health professionals through the decision making and treatment processes.”

Q. Do you think it is important to support women in science?

“Yes, it’s important to support all aspects of science. The behavioural and social sciences, which include psychology, are really important in breast cancer research and much of this research is carried out by women.”

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