Early Interest in Biology
I have been interested in Biology since I was 7 years old when I first had a chance to look down a microscope and watched an Amoeba slide around at high magnification. I grew up in the Cambridgeshire countryside and would collect and press wild flowers. My father was a keen birdwatcher so we had many family walks looking for all sorts of wildlife, insects, flowers and birds. As a student I chose to study the three sciences at 'A' level. In fact if you wanted to study any science at University in the mid 1970's you could not get in without all three sciences and also in some cases 'O' level Latin.
I went to York University to study Biology in 1975 and had a very absorbing three years, learnt a lot and met some life-long friends. My degree course included modules in biomechanics, population ecology, and maybe the most fascinating biochemical genetics. We also had a module in computation which involved writing script and punching cards to run in the computer. The computer took up the space of a large seminar room and was one of two in Universities in the country at that time.
After York I went on to Hull University to carry out a PhD in the Muscle Research Group led by Professor Geoffrey Goldspink. This is when I found out how lonely science can be and how you have to be very determined to want to go further. Three years and three publications later I headed off to the USA for my first post-doc.
My PhD supervisor was on sabbatical in Boston so I had to stop over in Boston for my PhD viva. Naively I had only bought a one-way ticket. As I waited for my PhD exam result it suddenly dawned on me that I would be in trouble if I failed. Panic over and I flew down to Duke University, North Carolina to start the US part of my scientific training.
Such a shock. American scientists from PhDs to post-docs to senior staff all work very long hours and very hard. This was the best experience I could have had, taught me an immense amount of science (Protein chemistry) and truly prepared me for a career in science. I was a part of grant and paper writing and it was expected that everyone on the research team learnt all the laboratory techniques even if you did not need them for the experiment you were doing.
Genetics of Palate Development
After three years I decided to come back to UK, partly because my family were here and also because the UK had trained me and I felt I should be contributing in some way to the country's scientific effort. I was offered an Action Research fellowship at St Marys Hospital medical school to use the new genetics techniques to map and find the gene for X-linked cleft palate. We linked the gene in 1987 which was published in Nature. Since then I have been part of the team to find the gene and create the mouse knock-out.
Work and Family Life
The research team on the genetics of palate development is now led by my husband Dr Philip Stanier. We met at St Marys, married in 1988 and have two sons, now in their twenties. It was very important for us that Imperial College had a subsidised day-nursery and that Phil and I shared child care.
The US training and the Nature paper bought me a new initiative lectureship at The Royal Post-graduate Medical School (now Imperial College London). This got me a tenured position at thirty and I have not looked back. In 2002 I was made Professor of Molecular Biology at Imperial. Four years later I moved to UCL as lead for the Clinical Molecular Genetics Unit. I think the answer is to make sure that you love your work but when you need to be looking after a sick child or parent the system allows you to be absent without penalty. At UCL-ICH this has never been an issue and helps create a good working atmosphere for families and working parents