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Professor Mahvash Tavassoli

Mahvash Tarassoli

Job title

Professor of Molecular Oncology

Department/Division

Molecular Oncology

Date started at King’s

1995


Challenges and achievements

When and what was responsible for you becoming interested in your academic discipline?

After obtaining a bachelor degree in Chemistry, In 1981 I volunteered to work in the biochemistry department at the University of Sussex in order to gain some research experience while seeking financial support to study a PhD. The interest of the lab was DNA damage repair pathways and cell cycle regulation. I found the research environment stimulating, dynamic and challenging. The relevance of DNA damage and cell cycle regulation to diseases such as cancer was becoming very important and new genetic tools were being developed to study such links. I found this experience fascinating and knew that I wanted to continue my studies in Cancer Research. With hindsight I consider myself very lucky to have had the opportunity to work in an exceptionally motivating research environment at such young age and to be part of a research group which generated Noble laureates and prominent leaders in science, with whom I am still in touch.

What are your research interests, and what drew you to this area? 

The earlier part of my career focused mainly on basic research in understanding the signalling and apoptosis pathways which are deregulated in cancer.  In more recent years I have recognised the need to translate the knowledge generated in the laboratory to clinical applications and improvement of health. Currently my lab is involved in the development of genetic tests for early detection, prediction of response of individual patients to radiotherapy of head and neck cancer. In recent years genetic research has led to remarkable improvements in the treatment of certain types of cancers such as breast, prostate, and leukaemia; we now need to tackle harder to treat cancer types such as pancreas, oesophagus and head and neck. 

Tell us about a couple of your achievements that have been particularly rewarding. 

Regarding research, I was amongst the first people to show the importance of Her2 oncogene in breast cancer, there are now very effective targeted drugs for treating Her2 positive tumours. I am also very happy to have been able to be trained in several leading laboratories; this has provided me with precious experience which I consciously aim to transfer to my research team on a daily basis.   I find it very rewarding when I meet my past students and postdocs at meetings or come across their publications and know that they have become successful and independent investigators.  Obviously as a researcher completing a project successfully and being able to publish your results is highly rewarding. Having established collaborations across the globe and communicating with these colleagues on a regular basis is also very special.

Do you have professional role models? Who are they and what do you find inspiring about them and their accomplishments?

There are many people who have inspired me during my career. My PhD supervisor Sydney Shall, who believed that we don’t all have the same opportunities to gain access to higher education and was willing to give me and other young and eager students a chance, has certainly had a major effect in my professional life.  The creator/s of the Krebs’ Memorial Scholarship and the Biochemical Society who enabled me to do a PhD have also played a very important role in my career. I am very proud to be now on a panel that awards Scholarships to talented students whose study has been interrupted due to the circumstances beyond their control.

What do you feel is the most enjoyable/rewarding aspect of your job at King’s? 

There are many people who have inspired me during my career. My PhD supervisor Sydney Shall, who believed that we don’t all have the same opportunities to gain access to higher education and was willing to give me and other young and eager students a chance, has certainly had a major effect in my professional life.  The creator/s of the Krebs’ Memorial Scholarship and the Biochemical Society who enabled me to do a PhD have also played a very important role in my career. I am very proud to be now on a panel that awards Scholarships to talented students whose study has been interrupted due to the circumstances beyond their control.

How do you balance the various demands of a career in academia: research, teaching/learning, administration?

Having to juggle too many balls at once comes with our profession. Research is an important part of my everyday activities.  I have an open door policy and my research staff come and chat to me whenever necessary. As my children are adults, I have a policy of not traveling in the summer July-August when the teaching is quiet and catch up with writing papers and grant applications. This year I managed to write four papers, three of which are already accepted for publication. I do most of my learning, such as reading papers when I am traveling and reviewing papers/grants at weekend and in the evenings. I do not have a specific time allocated to admin work and do these tasks whenever necessary. 

How do you balance an academic career with life outside the workplace?

People outside work tell me that I never leave work behind. I don't remember a day when I don’t have to deal with some work related matter, but this is not a chore, I find it very fulfilling. I had children at a relatively young age and although at the time it was very hard to balance work and family, they are now grown up and independent. I love spending time with them whenever I can. I like to go running early mornings and plan the day in my head, I find this exercise extremely helpful. 

What have you learnt from your experiences that you would like to share with others?

I believe perseverance is an important key to success and I have learnt to be tough and not to give up under pressure. 

In relation to my teaching, it is important to recognise the good qualities in young people and to be positive; never discouraging.

With colleagues it is obviously important to be willing to collaborate – actually to actively seek and encourage collaboration, to be honest, including honesty with ideas and to respect agreements. 

 

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