Professor Val Speirs

Where are the places you have been and the positions you have held?

I joined the IMS in July 2018, and by returning to my alma mater, my career has completed a full circle. I studied Zoology at the University of Aberdeen and was inspired there by a lecture series on cancer to study this in more detail. I achieved this by completing a PhD in cancer biology at the University of Glasgow. An enjoyable spell as a postdoc in Toronto, studying fetal lung development, then followed, however I wished to pursue a career in cancer research and returned to the UK, working across the M62 corridor first as a postdoc Liverpool, then Hull where I gained my first academic post as a lecturer. I made a sideways move to the University of Leeds, rising through the academic ranks to become Professor of Experimental Pathology & Oncology in 2012.  When the opportunity of returning to my native Scotland presented itself, I relocated to Aberdeen.  

What is your present research focus and has it changed?

As a translational scientist my research interests continue to focus on using human-tissue based systems to better understand the biology of cancer, particularly breast cancer (both in women and men). This includes oestrogen receptor biology, biomarker discovery and exploring the role of the stroma.

What has been your greatest achievement so far?

A tough question! I’d say my greatest achievement has been my involvement in setting up and running the Breast Cancer Now Tissue Bank (www.breastcancertissuebank.org). It was a massive undertaking to bring the project together across multiple sites and gave me satisfaction and a real sense of pride to be involved in establishing this with other colleagues, and then to oversee its successful launch to the biomedical research community and see it flourish.

Have you had to overcome any stumbling blocks

I’ve been fortunate to have been ‘in the right place at the right time’ and able to take opportunities as they presented themselves. At the start of my career I never really set out to be a professor, I just enjoyed being a scientist and it was only as my career progressed that I realised this might be a possibility. Progression to professor was the biggest stumbling block. I was working in an environment where there were some old-fashioned views regarding career progression and didn’t get a lot of support in the beginning. But I kept going and finally made it!

What do you like to do outside of work?

Away from work I enjoy the great outdoors spending some of my weekends in the hills and I’ve recently taken up recreational cycling.

Anything else you want to add to help others in their career goals?

Get yourself an enthusiastic mentor who is well respected in their field. Be tenacious. Be resilient. Life as an academic is a series of peaks and troughs of successes, so if things don’t appear to be working, stick at it - it gets much easier with time!