Work at UCL


Sophie Acton

Group Leader, Cancer Research UK Career development fellow

What is your role and what does it involve?

Setting up and funding a new research group. In the last three years I have won over three million pounds in research grants, recruited three postdocs, two PhD students, and trained three master students and three undergraduates with lab projects. My role is almost exclusively running research projects, but I teach on some cell biology courses, and enjoy being involved in our department’s Athena Swan/EDIC committee.

How long have you been at UCL? 

I have spent three years as a group leader. I first started at UCL almost ten years ago, this was at the start of my postdoctoral training.  I wasn’t physically working here as I spent time in the USA and in other parts of London. My Henry Wellcome Postdoctoral Fellowship, and therefore my salary and contract were through UCL all of that time.

What attracted you to UCL?

The ability to work across disciplines easily with other divisions. I have collaborators in the Cancer Institute, London Centre for nanotechnology, neuroscience, all within walking distance of the lab. UCL is also able to attract prominent scientists from all over the world for visits and seminars which is a great networking opportunity. I also benefit as a junior group leader when recruiting staff. I have three fantastic postdocs working with me which I may not have been able to attract if working elsewhere.

What and where was your previous role?

I came through a classic academic track, PhD at Cancer Research UK’s London Research Institute (now part of the Francis Crick), followed by postdoctoral positions at Harvard medical school in Boston USA, and back here in London.

What working achievement or initiative at UCL (or in previous work experiences) are you most proud of? 

I’m proud to have successfully balanced the pressures of academic science with family life. I have taken a year off for maternity leave twice, and rather than this setting me back I have gained better efficiency and focus at work to get more done in less time. I also find that home life puts work into perspective and I have found a good balance. I feel very privileged to be able to do full time research, and I am also able to balance stress much better than at the start of my career.

What is the best aspect about working at UCL?

The excellent mentors and collaborators. I have lots of people around me, senior academics, and my head of department who gave me a lot of advice, support and encouragement, and I have amazing talented peers working in all fields of research who I feel inspired by when we exchange ideas and find ways to work together.

What are your future career aspirations?

I would like to make a significant contribution to research in immunology and cancer and in the future combine the basic science we are undertaking now with more translational projects for potential immunotherapies. I look forward to meeting many more inspiring scientists from all over the world, and to one day seeing some the students and postdocs I have trained become leaders in their own fields of research.