Joint Research Office


Rakesh Popat

Blog written by Rakesh Popat, Consultant Haematologist UCLH, Honorary Associate Professor UCL

“Can I ask you a question, why did you end up in Myeloma research?” I was asked recently on my ward round.

I had no plans to be a clinical researcher when I graduated. In fact at the end of my first year as a doctor, my Consultant told me that I was not “teaching hospital material”. Whilst trying to figure out what to do next, I got a job as a junior doctor in Haematology at UCLH. It was here that I met people that inspired me, clinicians that were passionate about pushing the barriers of knowledge to improve treatments for the patients they served. I didn’t realise it then, but my future was set. As a second-year haematology registrar at Barts a colleague dropped out of a PhD grant application, and I was invited to apply. Whilst I hadn’t yet decided on a career path, I was inspired by the Supervisors and rapidly found myself submerged in myeloma research, an incurable blood cancer. I learnt how to design and run clinical trials and use the precious blood and bone marrow samples to further understand mechanisms of action and resistance. I extended my funding to visit the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, USA to broaden my experience. I would strongly recommend any researcher to take time abroad if possible, it gives you insights that otherwise you would not have.

I returned to UCLH after my training to set-up an early phase clinical trials programme. Whilst a daunting task, I was fortunate to have amazing mentors who had the patience, time and advice to guide me. I realised that mentorship comes in many forms, from varied sources and is one of the most valuable assets to career development. I still carry this view now where I have mentors both within and outside of UCLH who I know will give me the right advice, no matter how difficult it may be.

Being a Principal Investigator of clinical trials has many challenges. However, for me it provides the perfect mix of pursuing academic curiosity whilst giving the personal fulfilment of providing treatments to those that need them. I also lead my own academic Phase 1 clinical trial which is supported by many invaluable research staff across the country. Strong research teams are vital to the success of clinical trials. Having started my career without clear direction, I now find myself as Cancer Lead of the NIHR UCLH Clinical Research Facility, Chair of the UK Myeloma Research Alliance and pursuing a strong purpose in combating inequalities in Cancer.

Going back to the original question, I often wonder how I got here. What I do know is having support from mentors is vital. Whilst you may not realise your own potential, others do and having their guidance can make all the difference.