Professor Maddy Parsons
Professor of Cell Biology
Director of Nikon Imaging
Centre @ King’s
Randall Division of Cell & Molecular Biophysics
Date started at King’s
Challenges and achievements
When and what was responsible for you becoming interested in your academic discipline?
I had a brilliant GCSE biology teacher who was partly responsible; she was very smart, very cool and got me really interested in the wonders and mysteries of cells. And she made me realise science wasn’t just for geeks (although I’m sure I now fall firmly into that category!).
What are your research interests, and what drew you to this area?
My research focuses on how cells translate their external environment into internal signaling changes and how this in turn helps to co-ordinate responses such as cell migration or division. These are fundamentally important phenomena underlying organism development and tissue homeostasis, but also underpin a number of different diseases including cancer. We use many different microscope methods to study these processes, meaning we can really study the intricacies of cell responses and different behaviours in fabulous detail, which I find very exciting!
Tell us about a couple of your achievements that have been particularly rewarding.
I don’t think that any single achievement in my career has defined what I do today. But I do consider the fact that I am doing a job I love, alongside people I greatly admire, and that I get to learn something new every single day to be a significant achievement.
Do you have professional role models? Who are they and what do you find inspiring about them and their accomplishments?
I’ve had the privilege of working with some excellent, inspirational scientists throughout my career, many of whom I would consider role models for different reasons: Geoff Laurent, who headed the lab where I did my PhD at UCL; Ian Hart at Barts; Clare Isacke at the Institute of Cancer Research and Martin Humphries at Manchester University are some of those who encouraged and inspired me to pursue my scientific goals. I’m now lucky enough at King’s to be right next door (almost) to two of the most successful and internationally respected female British scientists, Anne Ridley and Fiona Watt, who are role models for many hundreds of researchers around the world including myself.
What if any support has most benefited you in your career?
I have been fortunate enough to have a few fantastic mentors and colleagues in all the places I have worked who have provided advice and guidance through good times and bad. I have also had incredible and unwavering support from my parents and my (exceptionally patient!) husband throughout my career which I think is extremely important, and definitely helps to keep me (mostly) sane!
What do you feel is the most enjoyable/rewarding aspect of your job at King’s?
I am passionate about doing my part to help train the next generation of scientists – both PhD and postdocs. It is incredibly rewarding to help nurture their love of science and see them use their knowledge and training to go on and pursue their own career dreams in future.
How do you balance the various demands of a career in academia: research, teaching/learning, administration?
The nature of running a research team in academia means it is never a 9-5 job; juggling day-to-day lab tasks, managing a team, writing and reviewing grants and papers, admin, teaching and being away at meetings can be tough to get right, particularly when you first start out as a new group leader. I realised very quickly that being able to multi-task and prioritise was essential to keep on top of things and ensure you still have quality time with your team to engage in the new discoveries they are making.
How do you balance an academic career with life outside the workplace?
I try very hard to balance worktime with playtime, but I freely admit that I don’t always get this right. Being super organised is essential, as is realising when it’s time to take a break!
What have you learnt from your experiences that you would like to share with others?
Academic research can be very tough sometimes; it’s important to maintain perspective and seek advice from trusted colleagues and mentors whenever you can. And don’t forget to celebrate the successes, no matter how small!