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1. Name : Lynn Asante-Asare
2. Course/ job: Graduate Medical Student (MBChB) at Leicester Medical School. Visiting Scientist, Professor Kevin M. Brindle Molecular Imaging in Cancer Laboratory, Cambridge Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute
3. A levels : Biology, Chemistry, Maths with Statistics, Economics
4. Undergrad degree
BSc Honours in Biomedical Sciences with Intercalated Year, University of Warwick
5. Postgraduate degrees
PhD in Medical Science, Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute, University of Cambridge (St John’s College)
6. Journey in 3 words
Unconventional, Lonely but Amazing
7. What motivated you to pursue a career in science?
When my friend had leukaemia, cancer research and clinical trials become a source of hope for all of us. I decided to become a cancer researcher when he passed away.
8. Outside science how would you describe yourself?
Witty, and down to earth.
9. What made you decide to pursue a SECOND Doctorate?
I was one of the first students to support Cancer Research UK’s Sponsor a Young Scientist Scheme, where charity supporters would pick a CRUK-funded student to follow throughout their PhD. I’d write my supporters regular letters them about my daily research, achievements, failed experiments, and more. By the second year of my PhD, I felt weary that my letters were so science focused that little of what I was writing was relevant to them as people dealing with the effects of cancer.
I needed to be closer to the bigger picture so I started volunteering in a Macmillan Cancer Care drop in centre within the Oncology department of a local hospital. Three hours every Monday afternoon, I was talking with cancer patients, and their families. Sometimes we sat quietly, tissues in hand as they cried, and sometimes we flicked through post-treatment recipes using Macmillan’s cook books. A month into this role, I was visited by a lovely lady who explained that although it had been six months since she finishing her chemotherapy, she was still experiencing vomiting and diarrhoea. She wanted my advice on why this was, and what I could recommend to help her symptoms. I knew the science behind the effect of chemotherapy on cells in the gut, and how that would lead to her symptoms but I couldn’t help here there and then. One of the healthcare professions in the ward nearby could though. At that point in time, my research knowledge was of little use to her, which showed me that while science changes healthcare of the future, medicine was about being on the front line and supporting patients in the present. I wanted to do both.
10. What advice would you give considering your path?
Always make the best of the career you already have, even if you’re not sure if it’s your final destination.
The first time I had a career-changing moment was in 2011 when my friend passed away and I decided to become a cancer researcher. It wasn’t until 2017, 6 years later, that I decided to go into medicine after failing to use my knowledge of the molecular biology of the gut to help a sick cancer patient.
These defining moments don’t come often so while you’re waiting for a sign for what to do next, make the best of what you have! Many of the skills and achievements you gain will be transferrable.
11. What did you struggle with the most in making the decision to pursue your medical degree?
- Retraining: the majority of scientists initially told me not to go into medicine because I would be starting my career all over again. This was also because medicine is an undergraduate degree, not a doctorate, so it doesn’t equate to a masters or PhD, which are higher postgraduate degrees. I worried I was taking several steps backwards by going to medical school.
- Finishing my PhD: most students hang around after their 3-4 year funding to get advice with their thesis submissions, do mock viva exams to prepare for the real one, and finish off publications. I would have to leave early, before my 4-year funding was up, to start medical school. I had some anxiety about finishing my PhD, alongside any new commitments as a medical student.
- Cost: graduate medical students, whether on a 4 or 5 year course, must pay some or all of their tuition fees upfront. Tuition fees are now £9250 per year. There were also maintenance and course costs to consider. I didn’t know how I was going to keep up with my research career, do medical school, and work to fund the degree.
- Friends: Every time I move to a new city, I lose friends. I’m 28 years old and so far I’ve lived in London, South Africa (shortly during my gap year), Coventry (BSc at Warwick Uni), Liverpool (Intercalated Year in Industry), Cambridge (PhD), and now I’d be moving somewhere else for medical school. Most of my friends are now well established in their careers, and I feared that they’d outgrow me. When people start buying houses, getting married, starting businesses, having children, their circles often fill with people at the same stage of life as them. As a medical student, I feared I’d be left behind, and replaced with friends with real jobs.
- Relationships: Becoming a medical student meant I would be taking a pay cut, and my primary income would be from savings and student finance. I worried that any potential other-half would find that off putting as I wouldn’t be in the most abundant financial position to secure a large rental or a mortgage in the short term. Getting married, and having children became more of myth the more going into medicine and studying for longer became a reality. I didn’t want to hold anyone back.
- Fitting in: PhDs makeup the minority of students going into medicine so I worried that I wouldn’t fit in, or that I wouldn’t find anyone within the immediate medical school environment that I could relate with and talk to.
12. How do you feel the Science world has evolved throughout your career? ( what are some hard truths you have had to face?)
The public space for scientists trying to tackle diseases is commonly occupied by medical doctors. But now, there’s a growing understanding that laboratory researchers actually do an incredible amount of work towards tackling the burden of disease. A lot of the hard work happens in labs, not just the hospitals. You’ll see that Cancer Research UK adverts, which previously focused heavily on doctors and nurses interacting with patients, now feature laboratory scientists! This has increased the amount of biological scientists carving careers in public engagement. I welcome this because for too long publications and grants have been the principle ways to judge a scientists success. It’s good that there are now other parts of a scientists role that are being valued.
My hardest truth is accepting the impact an unconventional career path has on non-career related aspects of life. I could be earning more money at this stage in my life. I could have been back in Cambridge with my friends still doing research full time. I should be free from undergraduate-level exams by now and going abroad on holiday more. I’m very happy but still a realist.
13. When considering your career path, how much has your potential salary affected your decision?
Not much. I did a vacation placement with a law firm during my PhD and had the opportunity to pursue patent law within Biotechnology after my PhD. I picked going to medical school, so clearly money isn’t a strong driving factor just yet!
Links to find out more about Lynn:
- A day in cancer research with The Times: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/life-on-the-front-line-in-the-battle-against-cancer-000chp8vs
- Science and Black History Month 2019 with the Women Making Waves podcast at Cambridge 105 Radio: https://womenmakingwaves.co.uk/episode-26#a7faa997-da6a-4a74-a487-0f355a91aa9a
- “Why Research?” with St Johns College Cambridge: https://www.joh.cam.ac.uk/meet-lynn-asante-asare-phd-student-south-london-who-came-cambridge-join-fight-against-cancer
- Black Researchers changing the future at the University of Cambridge : https://www.cam.ac.uk/bhmresearchers
- Signed Science with Deaf Youtuber Aliko Lu: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m5iSsRWOu48
- Twitter: @LynnAsanteAsare
- LinkedIn: Lynn Asante-Asare
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I hope this post inspires you to follow your passions and acknowledge that at every stage of your career will involve perseverance, consistency and discipline to help you achieve your desired goal. Never forget that “ no accomplishment is too small and no goal is too high”
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