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Dental Institute

Professor Abigail Tucker

Abigail Tucker

Job title

Professor of Development & Evolution


Craniofacial Development
& Stem Cell Biology

Date started at King’s


Challenges and achievements

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

I have always been interested in biology and decided from a young age that this is what I wanted to do. I thought I would be finding new species in tropical paradises but instead have found my home studying how embryos are patterned looking down the microscope. I started studying developmental biology at university and have carried on ever since.

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

For the last twenty years I have focused on development of the face: how your nose comes to be placed in the middle of your face, with molars at the back of your mouth and incisors at the front etc. My lab is interested in learning about how the structures of the face form during normal development and what goes wrong in the case of birth defects. I am also interested in the evolution of structures in the head, and how variety is generated. The lab is therefore host to a wide range of animal models, including snakes, lizards, opossums, mice and chicks.

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

I recently received the Cheryll Tickle medal for outstanding contribution to Developmental Biology which is an award specifically to highlight the work of women in my research area. It was wonderful to have your work appreciated in this way. I was also recently awarded a King’s supervisory Excellence award for my PhD supervision for the second time, which is also very important to me as my students nominated me. I believe supporting young academics is really essential and really enjoy watching my PhD students develop into wonderful scientists during their time in the lab.

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

I don’t have a single role model. There are many researchers who I greatly admire, often for their approach to science as much as for their research output. Those scientists who are excellent mentors, support their lab members and produce wonderfully innovative research are the people I look up to.

What if any support has most benefited you in your career?

Support from my family has been essential.

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

I love thinking of new experiments and finding out new things that previously were unknown. I have a great set of colleagues at King’s and its very rewarding just to chat with them and come up with new methods or lines of enquiry. I find King’s a very collaborative university and talking and working with my colleagues is an important part of my daily life at King’s.

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

As Director of Postgraduate Research I am in charge of the PhD students in the Dental Institute, making sure that they are progressing and have the right support. Part of my job is to make sure that the projects are suitable in the first place and that the supervsisors have the correct training so that the students can start out in the best environment possible. I try and make sure I am availble to talk to students to address problems and make sure that obtascles, where possible, can be removed. This role takes rather a balancing act with my research and teaching but it is very worthwhile.

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

I think I am rather bad at balancing work and outside life. When I am home I am constantly sneaking off to work on something or catch up on emails. I have three children and so they are a major part of my life and are completely wonderful. They are teenagers now and so I have gone back to full time work after years of working part time, as a consequence I find I have much more time to get everything at work done but I am easy sidetracked by new projects and am very bad at saying No so seem to be busier than ever!

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

I would like to let young researchers know that it is possible to have children, work part time, and still do well at your job. It’s a difficult balance but worth the effort. I think its great that schemes like Athena SWAN are now around to help support women in research and I have benefitted over the years from very encouraging mentors.


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