Professor Jayne Lawrence
Professor of Biophysical Pharmaceutics
Head of Pharmaceutical Biophysics Group
Institute of Pharmaceutical Science
Date started at King’s
Challenges and achievements
When and what was responsible for you becoming interested in your academic discipline?
At 15 I wanted to become an archaeologist, due to my love of history and science but was persuaded by my father who felt that it was not a ‘proper’ science. A chance conversation with a student in the year above me at school alerted me to pharmacy as a possible career. Upon researching it I found a degree in pharmacy allowed me to combine my love of chemistry with an interest in the science of medicines. I have never regretted my decision to study pharmacy for my degree, although I have maintained my interest in archaeology, recently taking an ‘A’ level in the subject.
What are your research interests, and what drew you to this area?
I always intended to do a research degree after my pharmacy degree and, while I enjoyed most of my course, I felt that it was the science of preparing medicines (called drug delivery) that interested me most. Hence I undertook a PhD investigating the development of novel lipid based drug delivery systems. While a PhD student I read some papers on the use of a technique called neutron scattering and was absolutely hooked with the potential of this technique to study drug delivery systems. I now use this technique extensively in my research and our group was the first to use this technique to study delivery systems.
Tell us about a couple of your achievements that have been particularly rewarding.
I find it particularly rewarding to see how my students have developed their careers as independent scientists and researchers and to think that I may have played a small part in the development. Since 2007 I have been working in a split role as Chief Scientist for the Royal Pharmaceutical Society. In this role I have been fortunate to be able to promote the evidence base for pharmaceutical science in the media. A notable highlight was the opportunity to explain on National TV that there is no scientific rationale for homeopathy, although talking with John Humphries live on the Today programme about the need for new antibiotics was a very close second.
Do you have professional role models? Who are they and what do you find inspiring about them and their accomplishments?
My role models are both dead! The first is Marie Skłodowska Curie who she was the first woman to win a Noble prize, the only person to win twice in different sciences. She was also the first woman to become a professor at the University of Paris. All of this and she still found time to have two children! The second is Noble Prize Laureate, Dorothy Hodgkin who was responsible for determining the structure of penicillin, vitamin B12 and insulin and who is credited with the development of protein crystallography. Hodgkin also had (three) children, and despite being diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at 24, continued her scientific career.
What if any support has most benefited you in your career?
Having a supportive partner and family has been invaluable as it has allowed me to travel to attend various meetings and conferences as well as given me the opportunity to perform neutron scattering studies which always involves travelling as no-one has built a lab-based neutron instrument to date – typically to Didcot (not so exciting) or Grenoble, South of France (much more exciting with the pleasure of French meals). Without this support I doubt I would have had the scientific career I have enjoyed.
What do you feel is the most enjoyable/rewarding aspect of your job at King’s?
The most rewarding part of my job is feeling that I may have helped someone reach one of their goals. It may be a student passing who has struggled studying finally getting their pharmacy degree or a PhD student getting their first paper published or a young academic getting their first grant. There is nothing better than seeing their sense of achievement.
How do you balance the various demands of a career in academia: research, teaching/learning, administration?
Balancing the various demands of academic work can be tough. My split role at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society only complicates things. One minute I can be talking to an undergraduate student about how drugs get absorbed from the intestine, the next minute it will be a journalist discussing the perceived health benefits of spring water and then possibly a fellow neutron scatterer about some experiments we have planned the next week. It certainly makes for a varied job. Prioritising jobs, learning to say no and learning that you cannot do everything to the same high standard are essential if you are to stay sane.
How do you balance an academic career with life outside the workplace?
I have always had a busy life. I know people find it strange that I get up early but to be honest I am keen to start my day and be as productive as I can. I love being in work when it is quiet in the morning and no-one is around to disturb me. I feel I can make a good start to the day. However, doing things outside work is important as it helps keeps work in perspective. I find sport is a great way to switch off while doing things (such as being a school governor) allows you to put something back into the community. I have recently taken up gliding.
What have you learnt from your experiences that you would like to share with others?
I would encourage others to be optimistic (or ‘the bottle is half full’ type of person). If you don’t, each time you don’t get the important grant or get a paper rejected or an experiment does not work have a day full of students problems, it can really get you down. You need to be able to bounce back from each disappointment and look to the next opportunity.