How I went from a Sociology graduate to a cancer researcher

Leanna Goodwin graduated with a degree in Sociology from the University of Manchester in 2010 with the intention of doing a postgraduate degree shortly after. However, with nothing jumping out at her she embarked on a career within market and consumer research instead. Fast forward ten years and she now has a master’s degree from The University of Manchester in Experimental Medicine (Cancer). So, how did she get from A to B and what is involved in her day to day job as a Research Practitioner at the Christie? Read on to find out…

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After completing my Sociology degree in 2010 I was extremely interested in completing a research-related postgraduate degree but I just couldn’t find an area of research that I felt passionate about to pursue. Nearly ten years later, a combination of personal and professional factors led me to apply for a place on the Experimental Medicine (Cancer) MRes course at Manchester.

I started my professional career working in market and consumer research; what changed this for me was an experience in my personal life. At 25 I provided support for a loved one as they took part in multiple clinical trials following a cancer diagnosis. This experience led to a complete shift in the direction of my career; I wanted to play a part, however small, in research that would help to provide this same opportunity to other patients.

My personal experience with cancer research motivated me to seek out a role within the Experimental Cancer Medicine Team (ECMT) at The Christie hospital, which manages a large portfolio of Phase 1 clinical trials. My initial role within the team was to support some of the administrative aspects of the trials as a Data Manager.

The MRes is firmly embedded within the ECMT, through my colleague Dr Natalie Cook. Alongside her role as Honorary Consultant in Medical Oncology at The Christie, Dr Cook is also a Senior Clinical Lecturer in Experimental Cancer Medicine at the University of Manchester, and the MRes Cancer Pathway Lead. Dr Cook encouraged both clinical and non-clinical members of the ECMT to apply for the course. Being non-clinical in my background, I was initially interested in applying to become more informed about all of the aspects of clinical research that I didn’t have any direct involvement in, such as clinical trial design.

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The structure of the course was helpful for me in that it helped to ease me back into academic research after such a long absence. Module one (Research Methods) provided a much-needed reintroduction to the key principles underpinning academic research. A highlight of the course for me was module two, which gave a general introduction to Experimental Medicine. This provided me with the opportunity to learn about different branches of clinical research beyond oncology.

One aspect of the course which I found particularly challenging was an assessment in module three, which looks at early clinical cancer drug development. The assessment involved calculating pharmacokinetic parameters, which (largely due to my background) pushed me out of my comfort zone.

Taking part in the MRes in Experimental Medicine (Cancer) course has undeniably shaped me as a researcher. Participating in the course has given me a much more comprehensive understanding of the entire clinical trials process, from pre-clinical work, to the process of trial design, right through to treatments becoming standard of care.

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Taking part in the course has also already had a significant impact on my career. Since graduating in December 2019, I have secured a new role as a Research Practitioner within the ECMT, the first of its kind at The Christie. My role involves coordinating research activities for trials which aim to use technology to transform the patient role in research, and ultimately improve treatment pathways.

A key aspect of my role is acting as the first point of contact for trial patients. It is a fascinating experience to be involved in such innovative research, and the knowledge that I gained through taking part in the MRes course was key in preparing me for this role.

My path to completing the MRes in Experimental Medicine (Cancer) hopefully demonstrates that there are students taking part in the course from a wide variety of educational and professional backgrounds. Despite the difficulties I faced in coming into the degree course from a non-clinical background, and the many other challenges involved, my experience was extremely rewarding. My key piece of advice for students considering the course would be to really focus on choosing to pursue areas of research that you are truly passionate about. This passion is what will get you through when the demands of the course get tough.


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