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PhD students reflect on life at the ICR


We asked some of our talented PhD students to reflect on all aspects of life at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, for our inaugural Teaching Week.

Posted on 05 July, 2017 by Keith Bradnam

As part of our Teaching Week activities we spoke to several of our PhD students and asked them to tell us how they felt about studying at the ICR.


Sarah Mason – making radiotherapy safer and more accurate 

Sarah Mason PhD student

The focus of research in Sarah’s PhD is to investigate the ways in which ultrasound imaging could be used to localise the target tissue prior to radiotherapy delivery. This is something that could ultimately make radiotherapy safer and more accurate.

"I am working on a clinical project, so I have the unique opportunity to interact with the patients, oncologists, and radiographers on a day to day basis each time we acquire ultrasound images."

Like all students, Sarah has access to many different resources and facilities at the ICR, including the support and guidance of our senior researchers.

“We have loads of brilliant senior scientists who want to teach and help students, we have a close relationship with The Royal Marsden, so we have access to data and clinical expertise, and we have a really positive work environment. It's fun and exciting to be here!

“The ICR has provided me with an opportunity to do my own independent research. I have improved my technical skills and knowledge base so that I actually have something to offer to the field.”


Anjui Wu – understanding how prostate cancers evolve

Anjui Wu PhD student

Anjui is using circulating tumour DNA to understand how tumours in prostate cancer evolve. This allows clinicians to track real time changes and to develop personalised treatments. Anjui reflects on how his training is equipping for his future career.

“The ICR provides many opportunities to collaborate and learn. The technical training and the oversight of multiple projects are critical for being a translational medical scientist and this is what I am aiming for my career.” 

Like Sarah, Anjui also recognises the support from expert mentors, and appreciates the clinical applications of so much of our research.

“I feel it helpful to learn all the different aspects of cancer research by learning from the experts in the fields. The ICR is focused on cancer research and most projects are directly translated to the clinical sides and beneficial for the patients.”


Alice King – discovering new radiotracers to image tumours

Alice King PhD student 

Alice is part of the PET radiochemistry team, and her research involves the synthesis of radioactive tracer molecules that are administered to patients before they have a PET scan. Her research aims to discover new radiotracers that can image tumours and be used to predict patient response to treatment.

The support infrastructure at the ICR is one of the highlights that Alice identified.

“The best thing about doing a PhD at the ICR is the sense of community; the feeling that you are not alone in your research, and that your research matters. ICR PhD students have an effective support system that ensures that you have a variety of people you can turn to if you have difficulties.”

Alice also recognised that PhD projects are not always plain sailing, but appreciated that a supportive environment can make a difference.

“I think every student would admit that PhD research can be stressful and frustrating. However, I feel that we are very lucky here at the ICR, as we are surrounded by experienced and approachable staff who are always happy to help.

“I have had many fantastic experiences here, including presenting at an international conference, and these definitely make all the difficult days worth it!”

Find out more about our world-class teaching opportunities by looking at our other Teaching Week content which features news items, blog posts and videos.

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Sarah Brueningk – improving combination treatments of ultrasound and radiotherapy

Sarah Brueningk PhD student

Sarah’s multidisciplinary research involves combining a number of biological experiments with biophysical modelling and systems biology simulations. She noted that the multidisciplinary nature of research at the ICR is one of our strengths.

“I think the ICR is a unique place for doing a PhD in cancer related subjects since it combines research from many different areas in one institute, i.e. physics, chemistry, drug development and basic biology.”

“At the ICR, I have access to state of the art lab infrastructure, computing facilities and physics laboratories, which is essential for a multidisciplinary project such as mine.”

Away from research, Sarah also reflected on the social and outreach opportunities at the ICR.

“I think the ICR has a very lively student community, we do a lot of fun things together also outside of work and even though I came to the ICR without knowing anyone beforehand, it was very easy to get to know people and make friends.

“Also, I very much enjoyed some of the outreach activities I have been doing since I started, such as presenting to a group of primary school kids, or showing high school students around the labs.”


PhDs for science graduates

At The Institute of Cancer Research we offer a selection of fully funded, challenging and exciting PhD projects each year.

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