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LEE, Dr Rebecca

My PhD involved two major components. Firstly, I looked at circulating tumour DNA and whether we could use that to find early recurrence of melanoma. We went on to develop a trial to see if we could provide treatment and detect that recurrence within the circulating tumour DNA to improve survival for patients. Secondly, I worked on resistance mechanisms to targeted therapy and cell signalling.


I knew whilst I was training at The Christie Hospital that I really wanted to do a PhD. At the time I wasn’t sure in which subject, but I found out about the PhD I ended up doing and became really interested in this topic.


My PhD helped me decide that I wanted to keep doing lab research. I went from never having touched a pipette to doing quite extensive laboratory work. My PhD provided me with these technical lab skills and I ended up designing some clinical trials.


I received mentorship from my supervisory team and was really lucky that during my PhD Richard Marais encouraged us to attend conferences abroad. His philosophy was to support you during the first couple of years and then, when you had some data, for you to apply for conference bursaries and awards competitively. I was able to successfully attend conferences abroad, such as one in Chicago. Networking at conferences is hugely important.  One of my papers stemmed from chatting to someone at a conference and now we’re opening our trial in Australia, where we met.


I am currently working as a postdoctoral fellow in Dr Erik Sahai’s Tumour Cell Biology lab at the Francis Crick Institute looking at liver metastases and melanoma where I am  about to apply for an independent fellowship. I am also currently employed as an NIHR Clinical Lecturer in Medical Oncology, so have blocks of time to do research. In August, I will return to The Christie to complete my medical oncology training.


At the Crick, I’m usually in the lab all week but my days are very varied which I like. I can be in the lab and then have a meeting with a statistician about a trial, before a meeting about patients. As a translational researcher, my priority is to bring my research back to the patient and understand what the key issues and challenges are in the clinic. We develop questions from there.


As clinicians, we are often more limited in terms of where we can work medically and this can make identifying postdoctoral opportunities more challenging. I’d really recommend the NIHR scheme, as I’ve found this to offer flexibility while you develop your own ideas and direction. Unless you have a lab and a defined project it can be quite difficult to begin independent research straight away and it is challenging to set up a new project in a new lab. The NIHR scheme is a great stepping stone towards independent research.


In the future, I’d like to have my own lab and be doing work related to translational clinical trials, analysing trial samples and finding new strategies to treat melanoma

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