Dr Catherine Hogan is a Research Fellow from the University of Cardiff. Her research is focused on understanding the very first stages of pancreatic cancer. She hopes that by understanding the biology underlying early disease, we will be better equipped to design new diagnostic tools and improve outcomes for patients. Catherine took some time out on International Women's Day to tell us how she became a researcher.
How did you get interested in science?
From a young age I have always been captivated by science, particularly the biological sciences and the natural world. These interests probably came from my mum who has always noticed nature, such as the changes of the seasons in the smallest of detail.
As a schoolgirl I became fascinated by the smallest details of life and how with a microscope we could peer inside an organism to explore how it functions. I still find it exciting to sit on a microscope and take a look at the patterns and architecture exposed to you on the slide – it is a side of science that mimics art.
Were there any female scientists who inspired you?
My biology and chemistry teachers at school were both women and they nurtured my interests in science and pushed me to go for a University degree. Throughout my career, I’ve been lucky to work alongside and be mentored by stellar female scientists who were always inspiring and a great support. In particular, Professor Anne Ridley from King’s College London was an important mentor for me as a junior scientist. She was always very supportive and spoke very openly and positively about balancing her science with motherhood and family life. As a mother myself, I advocate this openness and the need to deliver a positive message to young women in science that while it is sometimes challenging, it is possible to continue to do research as a working mum.
What are some of the greatest challenges that you’ve faced in your career?
The greatest challenge for me was transitioning from being a postdoctoral researcher to an independent fellow. This is a big challenge for most researchers. At the time, many people told me “you have to really want it” and I realise the truth in that now - it can be a lonely time and you have to dig deep within yourself to push through the rejection that comes with failed applications and unsuccessful interviews.
What advice would you give someone thinking of a career in science?
Be passionate about your research. If you are driven by the science you will enjoy it, and it will get you through the tough times when experiments are not working, or when your paper has been rejected. Also, be productive and consistent - make your efforts in the lab count for something, not just learning new techniques.
What are you most excited about for the future?
Pancreatic cancer is a devastating disease, primarily because diagnosis comes so late for many patients and their families. In the past, pancreatic cancer research has been largely underfunded and understudied. This is now changing and with investment, our knowledge and understanding of this disease has advanced hugely.
I hope that in the next five years we will be closer to developing an effective screening tool that would pick up the early stages of this disease and improve the outcome for more patients and families.