Professor Rebecca Oakey
Professor of Epigenetics
Medical & Molecular Genetics
Date started at King’s
Challenges and achievements
When and what was responsible for you becoming interested in your academic discipline?
I have been interested in biology since I can remember and after my first undergraduate degree, knew that I was not ready to give it up. There was never any doubt in my mind that a PhD would be the ultimate goal for me to strive towards.
What are your research interests, and what drew you to this area?
The study of biology has historically centred around understanding how mutations inform on normal biological function. My research interests encompass both genetic mechanisms as well as epigenetic mechanisms which are crucial factors in fertilization, growth and development but yet are not directly encoded by the DNA sequence. Understanding this interplay between DNA and epigenetic factors is compelling and helps us to understand both normal development as well as the disease state.
Tell us about a couple of your achievements that have been particularly rewarding.
Setting up and funding my first research laboratory at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia was a huge achievement for me and I have always looked back on this as a major step in my career development. More recenly, I have valued all of the opportunities I have had to educate train post-graduate students at King’s and be a part of their research journey.
Do you have professional role models? Who are they and what do you find inspiring about them and their accomplishments?
I have been fortunate to have had a number of very supportive mentors and senior faculty who have provided wisdom and advice through out my career. Two of the main characters are senior women scientist at the University of Pennsylvania who made their research marks by hard work and determination and by completely believing in their capacity to deliver the goods. They made me realise that I could succeed if I made the right choices, worked hard and enjoyed the science.
What if any support has most benefited you in your career?
The support I have benefited from comes from the advice of my two female mentors at the University of Pennsylvania, the genuine belief in my commitment from all of my Heads of Department at King’s College London and my husband.
What do you feel is the most enjoyable/rewarding aspect of your job at King’s?
The most rewarding parts of my job at King’s are publishing papers, getting grants, teaching and inspiring students at all levels and seeing a great piece of data.
How do you balance the various demands of a career in academia: research, teaching/learning, administration?
I have recently revised my time management strategies following the reorganisation of priorities at King’s. I have always given my time across research strategies and collaborations, teaching at the post-graduate, undergraduate and outreach levels as well as departmental administration and learned society work in fairly ‘on-demand’ ratios. Being a ‘good citizen’ is really important in delivering the academic mission and providing a research active teaching environment. Now I am focusing on grant revenue.
How do you balance an academic career with life outside the workplace?
Academia is about not counting the hours spent helping others and nurturing an environment for learning and achieving. An academic career means thinking and working on your chosen subject in and out of the workplace. The balance comes from taking a holistic view and being flexible. It is one of the easiest careers to take home.
What have you learnt from your experiences that you would like to share with others?
I have found that an academic career provides the freedom to explore problems and questions in depth and to continue to be open to learning and personal development. The values enjoyed by academics are extremely important to uphold in a largely commercial world. Tertiary level teaching provides one of the most rewarding opportunities for sharing research and inspiring keen young minds.