Dr Kate Dry is Information Specialist in Professor Steve Jackson’s Lab at the Gurdon Institute. Here, she tells us about unexpected career paths, working in science while raising a family, and being a member of a world-leading cancer research lab. 

Being part of a world-renowned research institute is a great privilege, and it is exciting to be part of a team carrying out cutting-edge science. I have been in my current role of Information Specialist for over 15 years. My work involves facilitating the scientific management of research projects in a large lab whose focus is cancer research. I enjoy the varied nature of my job, everything from costing grant applications to tweeting about our latest research findings. I also enjoy working in an academic environment with a fantastic group of extremely talented and highly motivated scientists.

I have been very fortunate that my post has allowed me to work part-time. This is something that is much harder for bench-based scientists, and I have been able to continue to work while raising my family. I have a BSc (London) and PhD (Edinburgh) in Biochemistry. I have nine years' postdoctoral experience in human molecular genetics and several years’ experience working in small start-up drug discovery companies doing computer-based biological research.

There have been a number of important turning points in my career. I reached a point in my postdoc career when I realised I could not continue bench research and was forced to re-evaluate my skills and explore alternative career options. Another came when I was made redundant while working for a small start-up business. Having a job in the morning, but finding myself unemployed a few hours later was quite traumatic. I had to act very quickly to find a new post, all while juggling a young family.

I think it’s important to remember that careers change, and the path you set out on might not lead to where you thought you’d end up. Think laterally - academic, bench-based research trains you in many skills that are applicable to other alternative careers.

On a daily basis, I can be doing any number of things. These might involve monitoring the scientific literature, writing reports and grant applications, or editing Wikipedia pages. I also oversee lab funding and staff recruitment, assist with research publications from first drafts through to the final proof-reading stage, write press releases and other publicity materials, and deal with anything else that crosses my desk!

There is so much fascinating science happening in Cambridge. Recently I’ve been working with Professor Jackson on a European Research Council Synergy Grant application. This is a multi-disciplinary, multi-centred proposal whose aim is to use the latest technologies in gene editing and chemical biology to study DNA-damage response pathways. We aim to identify new therapeutic agents for diseases such as cancer and neurodegeneration. Preparing such a large application has been a challenging task, requiring coordinating with multiple partners. We will hear later in the year whether this application has been accepted, which could lead to some very exciting research.

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