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Case Study: Alice Tuff-Lacey

Personal details
Degree:Cell Biology and Pathology Profile picture
School(s): School of Biology
Year of Graduation:Jun-2005
National of: United Kingdom
Employment details
Organisation: Cancer Research UK
Job title: Programme Manager
Occupational Sector: Project Management
What has been your route to getting your current position?
After university I worked for a year and I decided to do an internship. I loved science but I knew I wasn't interested in doing a PhD and I wanted to find a job that still involved science in some way. I found an organisation called Sense About Science that specialised in providing evidence based information to the public and was very involved with both the media and policymakers. I interned there for 3 months and I was subsequently offered a job. I started off in a general position and as it was a small organisation, I was able to both gradually increase my responsibilities and also to get experience in many areas, dealing with both policy and media issues. My role ended up focusing on developing the funding strategy for the organisation and running a programme aimed at getting early career researchers involved in public debates about science, both through equipping with them the skills to do this and also through public facing projects debunking health myths. I was then asked to provide maternity cover to manage the team which involved oversight of a variety of projects. After this finished I decide I wanted to get further experience in another healthcare organisation with a particular focus on overseeing projects. This led me to get a job a Cancer Research UK providing project management support to a new strategic initiative they were setting up in the area of stratified medicine. This role has gradually evolved to manage both a national multi-million pound programme with multiple sites and an office team of six people.
What does your job involve ?
I am responsible for managing the overall programme and ensuring it is delivered to scope, time and budget. The programme is currently setting up a national clinical trial delivered through multiple hospitals and laboratories, and with several industry funding partners. A lot of my job involves communicating with people, digging to identify where problems and blockages are occurring and working out how to resolve them with my team. This can be anything from working with the legal team to negotiate the funding contracts with the industry partners, to working with experts to identify the best genetic technology approach to use. A significant part of it is dealing with very senior external people from research and industry, each with their own viewpoint and interest in the programme. This can involve a lot of clear communication and negotiation. The programme is also very innovative so helping to deliver the strategy for it can mean talking to a lot of different people and working out the most pragmatic way forward. I don't make decisions on the the high level scope of the programme but support my key senior people to get the information they need and I am responsible for then making sure it is delivered and making day to day decisions.
What are the best bits of your job ?
I love that I get to stay in touch with cutting edge research without having to do it myself and being able to be exposed to many different fields from bioinformatics to molecular diagnostics. Working in the field of cancer I also feel that I am ultimately helping to save lives by helping new types of research happen in the UK that otherwise wouldn't. I also love taking a strategic, often very high level vision and turning into a real programme of work. This is quite challenging, particularly as it is often developing a new way of working with people and can involve persuading people to change their way of working.
Why were you successful?
Doing an internship helped me to get into this area. It gave me valuable office skills whilst exposing me to the types of jobs and organisations that I could get involved in. There is a huge range of jobs in this area dealing with managing research, developing and implementing policy for healthcare and research and science communication with the media, schools and the public.
What skills/ knowledge from your degree have you found particularly helpful in this role?
Being able to absorb large amounts of information and pick out the most important/relevant points.
What advice would you give to students wishing to follow the same path?
Getting some experience in an office is really important as it is a very different environment. Being able to communicate clearly and succinctly is also vital. I would take every opportunity you can to do presentations and learn to write good slides, not ones that are covered with words in font size 8. Also learn not to use email as a crutch, dealing with people by phone or in person cuts through any potential for confusion and ensures things get done quickly. You need to be passionate about this area and working with people of all types.