Professor Catherine Sackley
Chair in Rehabilitation
Deputy Head of Division in Health
& Social Care Research
NIHR Senior Investigator
Date started at King’s
Challenges and achievements
When and what was responsible for you becoming interested in your academic discipline?
My older sister convinced me to become a biochemist by enthralling me with details of her undergraduate biochemistry course was when we were working together in my parent’s garden during her summer vacations. Her fascinating descriptions turned me from studying music to biochemistry. As an undergraduate, my supervisor Tim Hunt convinced me to study for a PhD at Imperial Cancer Research Fund laboratories, and once I was doing experiments I never looked back.
What are your research interests, and what drew you to this area?
I am fascinated by how cells move, and how this contributes to cancer progression. As a PhD student, I was lucky that my supervisor recommended that I make movies of cells to find out how often they divided. It was really exciting to see living cells in action for the first time. My biochemical background ensured that I always want to understand the molecular details of what I see, down to protein structures and interactions between proteins.
Tell us about a couple of your achievements that have been particularly rewarding.
As a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute for Cancer Research in London, I discovered how signals from outside cells change the shape of cells, which ultimately leads to cell movement. It was really rewarding at the time to see these results for the first time down the microscope, and now to see them in text books. I have also been keen to study proteins on the biochemical level, so have been particularly pleased that I have worked with structural biologists to solve the protein structures.
Do you have professional role models? Who are they and what do you find inspiring about them and their accomplishments?
I don’t have any professional role models. I admire many scientists in my area for different reasons and have learnt from their different accomplishments, from how to give a good conference presentation or undergraduate lecture to how to run a successful laboratory.
What if any support has most benefited you in your career?
Several male supervisors and mentors have really encouraged me in my research and subsequently become great colleagues and friends. In addition, my husband has been an amazing pillar of support – we have completely shared bringing up our children, and he has worked very hard to keep the household going when I go away to conferences
What do you feel is the most enjoyable/rewarding aspect of your job at King’s?
I most enjoy discussing science with students and staff members. It is great to see an undergraduate or postgraduate student become really fascinated by cell biology and movies of cells, as I did as a PhD student.
How do you balance the various demands of a career in academia: research, teaching/learning, administration?
This is difficult. The best way for me is make sure I give a proportion of my time to research each day, and to set aside specific times to prepare for teaching. Long train journeys are good for catching up on research reading, and evenings for grant and paper reviewing
How do you balance an academic career with life outside the workplace?
I always make sure to be home in time to share a meal with my family in the evenings and to spend time with them at weekends, as well as holidays. Whenever I could, I took my daughters to music lessons and attended almost all of their concerts. It has been wonderful to continue playing music, particularly chamber music, which requires close cooperation between a small group of people (similar to a lab…).
What have you learnt from your experiences that you would like to share with others?
If you have children, they always come first above everything else, especially when they are sick. They are only young for such a short time of your life. On the science side, it is really important to keep alive your enthusiasm for science which started off your career. I make sure to give myself time to watch movies of cells, now generated by people in my laboratory rather than me, and to study protein sequences and structure