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Meet The Expert: Maxine Tran

6 March 2020

Maxine Tran is Associate Professor in Renal Cancer, Honorary Consultant Urological Surgeon and academic lead for the Specialist Centre for Kidney Cancer. We asked Maxine our top ten questions and here are her thought-provoking responses…

Maxine Tran UCL

Maxine Tran is Associate Professor in Renal Cancer, Honorary Consultant Urological Surgeon and academic lead for the Specialist Centre for Kidney Cancer.  She was drawn to kidney cancer ever since her first post as a junior doctor in a urology department over two decades ago – and has a special interest in rare inherited kidney cancer syndromes.  

In 2019, Maxine was appointed to the new position of Vice Dean (Equality, Diversity & Inclusion) within UCL’s Faculty of Medical Sciences.  Whilst the remit of the role goes beyond gender, to encompass universal issues regarding equality, Maxine is a role model and great promoter of careers for women within her faculty.  As we celebrate International Women’s Day on 8th March, this is a great moment to hear directly from Maxine about her views on medical careers for women, the challenges she has faced and how she is working to break down barriers for all to enable the most talented future doctors, surgeons and researchers reach their full potential. In her clinical and research work, Maxine is dedicated to improving the knowledge of the biology underlying kidney cancer. This will ultimately translate to earlier diagnoses, better management and wider treatment options for patients. She has been awarded grants from the MRC, Academy of Medical Sciences, Addenbrookes’ Charitable Trust.  

Her current research is being supported by the NIHR, Kidney cancer UK, Facing up 2 Kidney cancer, MRC, the Wellcome Trust, The Royal Free Hospital Charity and St Peter’s Trust.   We caught up with Professor Maxine Tran to understand what motivates her research and her teaching – and how she is embracing her new her role as Vice Dean of Equality, Diversity & Inclusion.  We asked Maxine our top ten questions and here are her thought-provoking responses… 

Question 1: What triggered your passion for renal cancer research?

Maxine:  I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with the top leaders, surgeons and thinkers in kidney cancer. When you are inspired by passionate teachers, it’s easy to be compelled to want to learn and do more.  

Question 2: What are the major breakthroughs in renal disease that you think are around the corner?

Maxine: I think it’s a really exciting time in kidney cancer diagnostics and prognostics. Ground breaking work by the TraceRx kidney consortium and others have elucidated the molecular drivers behind the evolution of kidney cancers; bringing us closer to predicting which tumours are destined to be ‘bad’ and cause harm, and therefore require treatment, from those that may never be clinically significant and can be left alone.

Question 3: In the past you have referenced the challenges that you faced along the way in your own career, can you explain more about the barriers you personally overcame?

Maxine:  My family came to the UK as Vietnam Boat refugees in 1979, and spent time in a camp in Sopley before relocation to a council house in Dagenham, Essex. I was the youngest of the family, at 4 years old. So growing up, there were obvious language, cultural, and financial difficulties. More recently, I have experienced the more familiar challenge of raising a young family while completing sub-specialist surgical training, and maintaining my academic career.    

Question 4: As we celebrate International Women’s Day on 8th March, what would be your top piece of advice to female students looking to forge a career in medicine?

Maxine: My advice would be to expect and accept that it is not going to be easy, that it will require (and so it should) a lot of hard work, compromise and commitment. In other words, to be prepared, and then to just go for it!! A more general piece of advice would be to look for positive role models and mentors to inspire, energise and support you, and avoid as best you can the detractors and doomsayers who will drain, deflate and hinder.

Question 5: What most excites you about your new role as Vice Dean of EDI?

Maxine: I think a real strength of the initiative is that it comes directly from the office of the Provost, and visibly demonstrates UCL’s commitment to EDI which makes the role very exciting.  Having had first hand experience of many of the challenges faced by underrepresented groups, I am acutely aware of the problems and the imbalances that currently exist, which is why this remit resonates so personally to me. I hope I can bring a degree of authenticity to the position; and use the opportunity to implement action plans to mitigate these barriers (perceived or otherwise).

Question 6: Have you set ambitions for the EDI committee and what are the first issues that you aim to tackle?

Maxine: The first EDI committee for the Faculty of Medical Sciences has been appointed, and the inaugural meeting was last month. I am delighted that there is representation from across the faculty which is obviously important. We are compiling a shortlist of EDI priorities to put forward in open consultation to all students and staff; so that we can identify which issues are most pressing and most relevant to the Faculty to address first, and this would enable everyone to have input into the EDI strategy which affects us all.

Question 7: What will success look like for the EDI committee at UCL’s Faculty of Medical Sciences in 2 or 3 years’ time?

Maxine:  2-3 years is not a lot of time! Tangible short term goals would be to improve recruitment and promotion of under-represented groups by increased training of fair recruitment specialists, increased adoption of mentorship networks, such as the B-Mentor initiative, and increase visibility of senior role models from diverse backgrounds. I would also like to extend the reach of the widening participation schemes beyond London, to attract talented students from across the UK.

Question 8:  How does your research influence the content and direction of your teaching, and visa-versa?

Maxine: I am naturally excited about the research we are doing at UCL in kidney cancer. There are so many different aspects; from basic science which includes genomics, immuno-oncology and biomarker discovery, to clinical such as early detection strategies, practice-changing trials, cutting-edge imaging to truly interdisciplinary research, with computer engineering scientists developing innovative surgical adjuncts like 3D image guidance and a ‘pneumatic’ suction tentacle to use in robotic surgery. So, I am never short of content to teach or projects to involve interested students.

Question 9:  Can you explain the pleasure you get from supervising your students?

Maxine: I think it is one of the most rewarding parts of the job. It is enormously satisfying to work with enthusiastic students, to nurture their talent, and support them as they develop and grow their academic potential. I am very proud that my clinical fellow was awarded a competitive MRC clinical training fellowship for her PhD, and my MSC student gained a distinction under my supervision. Both are young female surgical trainees, and no doubt will be role models themselves in the future; increasing diversity in academic surgery, so that is in itself a pleasing result.

Question 10: What’s the drive that makes you leap out of bed every day..?!

Maxine:  Knowing what a privilege it is to be living this life and doing this job; to not squander a day of opportunities – and to always be a good role model for my children.