Professor Joy Burchell
Professor of Glyco-oncology
Division of Cancer Studies
Date started at King’s
Challenges and achievements
When and what was responsible for you becoming interested in your academic discipline?
As I am sure is the case for many academics, my interest in my discipline came about by accident. When working as a PhD student I characterised monoclonal antibodies that showed differential binding to normal and malignant breast epithelial. The differences seen in binding turned out to be due to differences in how normal and malignant cells glycosylated the same protein. This started my interest in O-linked glycosylation and it has snow balled from there.
What are your research interests, and what drew you to this area?
Throughout my career I have been interested in breast cancer research and within the last 25 years in changes that occur in O-linked mucin type glycosylation in breast cancer. I am particularly interested in this area as while genomics and proteomics have produced unparalleled discoveries that have advanced the understanding of biological processes and disease, this is often incomplete without an understanding of post-translational modifications of proteins, including glycosylation. The amount of research in this area, relative it its importance, is underrepresented, certainly in the UK.
Tell us about a couple of your achievements that have been particularly rewarding.
Being the first to demonstrate the presence of MUC1 in serum (forms the basis of the CA15.3 assay) and the first to demonstrate that MUC1 was aberrantly glycosylated in breast cancers has been a particularly rewarding aspect of my research. Being join organizer of a series of international meetings in Mucins in Health and Disease that have been running for 25 years and regularly brings together a group of enthusiastic participants allowing the initiation of collaborations is very satisfying. Moreover, it is extremely fulfilling to see my PhD students obtain their degrees, especially the first one!
Do you have professional role models? Who are they and what do you find inspiring about them and their accomplishments?
Many people have inspired, those I have known or know off. However, Joyce Taylor-Papadimitriou is one of my role models. She has managed to combine a successful career with family life and even after retirement age is keen to be involved and contribute to research.
What if any support has most benefited you in your career?
I can answer this without hesitation – the support of my husband.
What do you feel is the most enjoyable/rewarding aspect of your job at King’s?
Being able to carry out the research that I am really interested in, working with enthusiastic scientists and medics. It is also a real privilege to supervise talented PhD students and see them blossom in scientists.
How do you balance the various demands of a career in academia: research, teaching/learning, administration?
Keeping a very accurate diary!! When I am grant and paper writing I tried to put 2 days a week aside when I do very little else. Whenever possible I tried to group my administration duties together.
How do you balance an academic career with life outside the workplace?
As I’m sure is the case with most academics this is not a 9-5 job and I regularly work in the evenings and weekends. This is particularly the case when a deadline is looming when the whole weekend may be spent working. However, academia also allows flexibility and if something comes up that I need to spend an hour away from work this is usually possible. This flexibility is a great privilege!
My husband is not an academic and it’s great to get a different aspect on things! I live in the country and being able to get outside and appreciate the countryside is very important to me.
What have you learnt from your experiences that you would like to share with others?
Learn from the experience and knowledge of others.
Make sure you are working in an area you enjoy.
Be confident – we (women) often find this difficult!
Remember you can do it!