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The Student Panel

Our PhD students and Clinical Fellows talk about life at the ICR

Our big annual student recruitment drive has opened here at The Institute of Cancer Research, London. We're looking for the very best science students to take on our fully funded PhD projects in fields across the span of cancer research – in biology, chemistry, physics, computer science and mathematics. And we're also looking for clinicians who are looking to branch out into research to join our Clinical Fellowships. Students at The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) will not only receive our unique training in cancer research and a University of London doctorate, but will also be contributing their own discoveries in the drive to defeat cancer.

If you're interested in starting a career in cancer research with one of our PhDs or Clinical Fellowships, you can read all about the project opportunities that we have available, and the teams you could be working with, on our PhD pages and on our Clinical Fellowships pages. But what about student life at the ICR more generally? We put three questions to a panel of current PhD students to find out what brought them here, and how their student experience has turned out.

The Panel

Jin Li is in the third year of her project looking at non-invasive imaging of tissue elasticity in the Division of Radiotherapy and Imaging. Prior to joining the ICR she completed a master’s in Optical Engineering and gained lab experience in cell biology.

Colin Robinson is in the third year of his project looking for small-molecule probes for protein-protein interactions in the Division of Cancer Therapeutics. He has a medicinal chemistry master's from the University of Glasgow, with a year spent in industry at GlaxoSmithKline.

Charlotte Pawlyn is in the first year of her project looking for epigenetic therapies for myeloma in the Division of Molecular Pathology. She is a haematology clinician with two years of registrar training as an Academic Clinical Fellow at The Royal Marsden and St Helier Hospitals, including experience in the lab at the ICR.

Parisa Razaz is in the third year of her project using computational methods to identify novel druggable targets for cancers, and validating those targets in the lab, in the Cancer Therapeutics Unit. She has a Natural Sciences degree from Cambridge and an Imperial College London Molecular Medicine MSc.

Jacqueline Fok is in the third year of her project looking at targeted therapy for multiple myeloma in the Division of Molecular Pathology. She has a degree in biochemistry and an MRes in Cancer Biology, with time spent interning in industry.

Why did you choose the ICR?

Jin: When I chose to do a PhD, my number one consideration was where I could do the best scientific research. I knew the ICR is one of the world’s leading cancer research institutes, so I believed I would have great opportunities not only to be a part of cutting-edge cancer research, but also to work with brilliant researchers who will not just teach me but also inspire me. After the interview, when I met my supervisors and colleagues, I knew I had made the right choice.

Jacqueline: I was looking to do a PhD in translational cancer research and found that the ICR particularly appealed to me as the research output was very multi-disciplinary but with a heavy focus on patient-benefit at the same time.

Charlotte: Having worked at The Royal Marsden I was aware of the excellent links between the ICR and the hospital, and the opportunities this offers for translational research.

Colin: The ICR was recommended to me as one of the best places to do a medicinal chemistry PhD. During the interview process I was very impressed by what the ICR had to offer. Great facilities and funding, as well as the opportunity to work with some of the best scientists in the UK.


Jin Li in the lab
Jin Li in the lab.

What has surprised you about working at the ICR?

Charlotte: The huge amount of support and expertise available in all the different teams and how well these work together to collaborate on projects.

Jacqueline: I was surprised at the amount of internal presentations we have here. It really gives you an idea of what is being worked on and who is working on what. It is especially useful when there are techniques or assays you would like to try out and there is someone at the institute you can ask about it.

Parisa: The ICR isn't just a place where you study: it's a community where you share ideas, support each other, work and socialise together — across departments and ranging from students to PIs. There are also many opportunities available here, both within and outside of academia, from training courses and workshops to committees, sports teams and competitions… Although you will soon find that you have less and less time for these as your PhD progresses!

Jin: As an international student, I only discovered the close collaboration with The Royal Marsden after joining. It creates so many opportunities to see what is happening in clinical cancer treatment and how our research will benefit patients. Also, the frequent high-level lectures and close collaboration with groups both in and outside the ICR are really useful. People working at the ICR are really motivated about science, amazingly friendly, and always ready to help. There is also great support from the specialist facilities.

Colin: I was surprised by how well PhD projects are funded. The funding here allows you to carry out your project without financial constraint.

Computational biologist Parisa Razaz.
Computational biologist Parisa Razaz.

What would you say to somebody thinking of applying to the ICR?

Colin: I would say go for it! The ICR has a very friendly and scientifically stimulating atmosphere and will provide you with an excellent grounding in science. Also there is a very active sports and social scene here at the ICR to get involved with outside of work. Overall in my opinion it is one of the best places to study in the UK.

Parisa: Do it! If you already have a good idea that a PhD is for you, then the ICR is one of the best places to do it at. We work with very talented people at the forefront of their field who are carrying out cutting-edge research. For example the combined team from the Cancer Therapeutics Unit and the Drug Development Unit here at the ICR won the prestigious AACR Team Science Award last year. As well as inspiring you, you will learn a lot from them during your scientific training. In addition, the research here is highly translational, having real impact in the clinic thanks to our strong links with The Royal Marsden.

Jacqueline: The ICR is a great place to do a PhD. You work in an environment surrounded by scientists working in a variety of different fields but with a united goal. There are fewer students than most higher education institutions, but more Post Docs and staff scientists or scientific officers, who have lots of experience and lots to offer in your particular field of interest.

Jin: If you want to do a PhD and have a particular interest in cancer, the ICR will be exactly the right choice for you. The years spent here will be fertile. You will receive excellent training to be a scientific researcher and the ICR will provide you a great platform to achieve more.

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