Tuesday 29 March 2011

Breast Compression!!*

This morning I had my three-yearly mammogram as part of the national breast screening programme (OK this may be too much information but hang in there). We are very good at complaining and campaigning when things don’t work but the moment they are working we take them for granted.

The breast screening programme started in 1988 and I have been every three years apart from when there were issues in my area and it was suspended for some months. I have seen it change from taking only one x-ray each side to taking two x-rays each side from two different angles and today the machines were digital so that the radiographer can check the X-ray immediately to see if the quality was OK. It was quick and efficient and, although this is not the most comfortable procedure, it wasn’t that bad.

Of course it is disappointing that about 20 per cent of screening units do not yet have digital mammography and that needs to be urgently addressed. The age range for screening has been extended to 70 (rising to 73 by 2016) but after that it is down to you to ask for it. That does concern me as it is so easy to forget when the last time was and one’s memory doesn’t improve with age. Remember there are two major risk factors – gender and age. The older you are the greater the risk.

I am now part of three screening programmes – the national breast and bowel cancer programmes and also taking part in a trial for ovarian cancer screening. None of this protects you from those cancers (seriously there are some people who think it does) and none of it replaces being aware of your own body and any unusual changes.

*this is what happens when they take the x-ray – you get the picture.....

Thursday 17 March 2011

Is the career structure for scientific research in universities broken?

Thanks to MRC Policy Watch (Medical Research Council) for drawing a Nature opinion piece to our attention. According to the article the career structure for scientific research in universities is broken. It says the science job market has been tight for decades and this has been compounded by the global recession and accompanying austerity measures. It suggests “professionalising” the postdoctoral role; turning it into a career rather than a scientific stepping stone.

The post-doctoral role is something that seems unique to scientific research in the UK. In any other career structure, once you have left university you are launched onto the job market where if you are successful in finding a job it is, at least theoretically, permanent. If you perform well and your employer is financially successful, you will continue to be employed. If not, your services will be dispensed with in the first instance or you will be made redundant in the second. What happens to you then depends on your abilities and the vagaries of the job market.

Not so in scientific research: once you have your PhD (and another story in finding funding for that) you try and find a team or department that has funding to give you your first post. This may well be with what is called soft funding – ie from a charity such as ours. That will last for three years, and during your third year you have to think about applying for the next round of funding. After a few of these, if you are successful you will be leading your own team and employed by the university and thus have tenure where your job is secure. I am not sure that the concept of tenure exists anywhere else.

This process also discriminates against women who have families. If you take a career break to have a family and then get back on the post-doc soft money road show, review boards may turn you down as you will be older than your contemporaries and they may question why you are not leading your own team by now. I am happy to say that in observing our own Scientific Advisory Board that is not the case, but it does happen.

Our scientific fellowship awards are designed to help the talented investigator make that transition from post-doc award to tenure and we hope that by the time they finish their five year fellowship they are in a position to negotiate tenure. But we can only fund one or two of these a year.

In other European countries the situation is somewhat different and there are defined career structures, but they do not have the level of charity funded research that is found in the UK. We know that the UK punches well above its weight in the global academic research community but at what cost?

I wonder how many talented researchers fall by the wayside because of this system. I think that the author of the piece, Jennifer Rohn, makes a case very eloquently but don’t expect the system to change any time soon.

Monday 14 March 2011

Let them eat cake!

Very exciting news as Breast Cancer Campaign was placed at number 40 on The Sunday Times 100 Best Places to Work in the Public and Charity Sectors list 2011, published yesterday. The charity achieved the fourth highest score (92.9%) for making a positive difference to the world. If you saw the photo you will think that eating cake is an important part of what we do here - and you wouldn’t be far wrong.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and every Friday different teams in the office contribute to the bake-off which is judged at the end of the month. Sadly my baking skills have never come close to matching those of incredibly talented colleagues. Last year the bake-off was won by the Communications team, and the Research team the year before. The competition is intense – but wanting to be the best is the DNA that runs through this organisation.

We want to support the best research and our scientists and our supporters share the credit for achieving the fourth highest score in making a positive difference to the world.

We have also been recognised in the Best Companies Accreditation list for 2011, achieving One Star Status.

We are delighted to have achieved places for the second year running thanks to the hard work of our staff, volunteers, fundraisers and trustees.

I am only sorry that because of The Times pay-wall I can give you a link to the page but you will have to subscribe to see it: http://features.thesundaytimes.co.uk/best100companies/