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Breaking barriers to a career in cancer research


Professor Karen Vousden

Cancer Research UK’s Chief Scientist

“When I began my career in cancer research as a genetics and microbiology student, I couldn’t have predicted where it would take me.”

I’ve delved into the intricacies of how tumours develop, collaborated with world-leading scientists around the globe, and experienced the highs and lows of working in research.

Building a career in science is hard work. It’s also rewarding, challenging and inspiring.

I’ve been lucky enough to see amazing scientists grow in their careers, building their research networks and achieving funding success. From experience, I know that researchers make better progress if they are properly supported with career development and build up a broader range of personal and leadership skills. And when it comes to cancer research, every step forward brings us closer to achieving our goal of seeing 3 in 4 patients surviving their cancer by 2034.

Different paths, same goal

In my role as chief scientist at Cancer Research UK, I want to embrace the ambition of all our scientists.  We take the careers of our researchers extremely seriously, and importantly, we appreciate that there are many different routes to scientific success. There are several perceived barriers to progressing up the career ladder – taking time out and having children among them. These shouldn’t get in the way of someone fulfilling their scientific potential.

As part of our commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion, we’re making sure that regardless of background or circumstance, we’re supporting the best people and ideas. To address this, we’ve removed time-bound eligibility criteria for our career fellowship applications. We’re eliminating a potential barrier for researchers who have taken time out from their career, who have changed disciplines or have taken a different route to independence, giving them more flexibility to apply for schemes when the time is right for them.

Recognising and nurturing scientific merit

We reward scientists based on their research ideas and achievements, level of independence, research ambition, and the skills they can demonstrate. But recognising that this is the best way to identify future leaders is only half of the solution. Guiding and encouraging researchers at all stages of their career to develop a broad range of skills and experience will help them make the most of the resources we offer.

Our competency framework offers guidance on the skills and experience required for our different research fellowships and sets out how we want researchers to develop as they work towards becoming a future cancer research leader.  Whether it’s establishing independence in a specific field, or making the transition to scientific leadership, we want to help individuals realise their ambitions.

This is an incredibly exciting time to pursue a career in cancer research. Right now, the next generation of scientific leaders are poised for success, and with the right amount of support and guidance, there’s no telling where their careers will take them and what they could achieve.

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