Researchers in the Crick's cafe.

Science date: a cancer researcher meets a developmental biologist

In our latest scientific blind date, Rosalyn and Brittany talk research culture, shaking things up and teaching yourself new skills.
  • Date created: 16 July 2019
  • News Type:
  • Feature

What are science dates?

Making connections is at the heart of the Crick, but in a building of 1500 people it's impossible to meet everyone.

In our scientific 'blind dates' series, we bring together two Crick researchers who probably wouldn't have otherwise crossed paths. After learning about each other's work over a coffee in the Crick cafe, they speak to us afterwards to share how it went.

Rosalyn Flower is a laboratory research scientist in Robin Lovell-Badge’s lab at the Crick and studies sex differences in a congenital childhood disease called Hirschsprung’s Disease.

Brittany Campbell is a postdoc in Charlie Swanton’s group and works with large data sets from patients with lung cancer.

Q&A

Rosalyn Flower

Rosalyn Flower

 

What did you expect from the science date?

I really had no idea what to expect. Somehow Brittany and I had never crossed paths at the Crick beforehand. Before we met up, I found out that she was a bioinformatician but that’s all I knew.

What did you know about Brittany’s field of research?

I was actually at a conference earlier this week where they discussed a project (TRACERx) that Brittany works on. It was interesting to hear about the project, and then speak to Brittany a couple of days later about her day-to-day work.

What did you talk about?

All sorts of stuff! How we became interested in science, our paths to the Crick and how we specialised in our fields.

We also talked quite a bit about the public perception of science, and how that doesn’t quite line up with our experiences. There can be an image of science as something that always produces amazing discoveries, but people don’t often talk about the hard work involved and the sometimes competitive culture.

Any surprises?

I was actually really surprised to learn how Brittany got into bioinformatics. She’s self-taught and just found time to learn how to code. It made learning these skills seem a bit more achievable. I work with really large datasets and it would be really useful if I could code a bit more myself, rather than having to rely on my bioinformatician colleagues as much.

Did you take away any tips?

It was interesting to hear how Brittany tries to seek out new ways of doing things in her work. We spoke about how, as scientists, we have a lot of flexibility in what we do and it was interesting to hear how she deliberately shakes up her approaches to come up with new ideas.

Did anything get lost in translation?

No, not really. Although Brittany did ask if Rett syndrome was anything to do with Hirschsprung disease, which primarily affects girls instead. Mutations in a gene called Ret can cause Hirschsprung's disease but Ret isn’t involved in Rett syndrome!

Can you imagine collaborating in the future?

Potentially! She was really interested in my work on sex differences. Brittany works with DNA and RNA sequencing data from cancer patients and we were both wondering whether the cancers that she studies occur differently in different sexes. Maybe there’s some work to be done there…

Brittany Campbell

Brittany Campbell.

 

What did you expect from the science date?

Given that I am relatively new, having moved here from Canada seven months ago after finishing my PhD, I appreciated the opportunity to hear about something other than lung cancer for a little while!

What did you know about Rosalyn’s field of research?

I found out that Rosalyn studies Hirschsprung’s disease, a congenital condition affecting young children. We had a connection through our work on a childhood disease, since I wrote my PhD on an aggressive congenital childhood cancer syndrome.

What did you talk about?

We discussed the rewards and challenges of being scientists and bonded over the ‘busy-ness’ of our colleagues and ourselves. Everyone is often juggling many hats and we don’t always have opportunities for conversations where we can get deep into the science and away from the hum-drum of keeping a lab going. 

Any surprises?

I was surprised at how little I knew about the wide variety of congenital childhood diseases. This is likely a topic that the parents of these children would most likely appreciate more recognition for.

Being a parent of a healthy child is challenging enough, and being a parent of a child with a congenital disease deserves a prize! It made me more grateful that we live in a society where we have the luxury of expecting our children to be healthy. 

Did you take away any tips?

I admired the seriousness with which Rosalyn approaches her work and her concern for getting it exactly right. I tend to take a holistic approach and focus on the broader story. I believe the perfect scientist is somewhere in the middle.

Did anything get lost in translation?

Not between us, but we did talk about how it can be difficult to speak about our work on serious childhood illnesses to people who aren’t scientists.

I wonder if people think that we’re being dismissive by sometimes speaking quite nonchalantly, but I hope they understand that it’s because we talk about it so frequently, and we look at the disease as something to be analysed and ‘figured out’.

Can you imagine collaborating in the future?

While we might not start collaborating immediately, I would definitely be more comfortable approaching research related to her field of study now. I hope we’ll at least exchange hellos over coffee and share our inevitable future successes. The science date was a wonderful way to get to know about other research going on at the Crick.

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