Elizabeth Slee

Senior Research Officer, Ludwig Cancer Research

As a child Liz was always curious about ‘stuff’, for want of a better word: ‘why is glue sticky?’, ‘what’s my hair made of?’, ‘where does mud come from?’, ‘how does soap work?’, that sort of thing. This lead to an enthusiasm for Chemistry lessons at school, which was helped along by a couple of good teachers.  From there, Liz decided to study for a Biochemistry degree at university.  Her undergraduate research project involved trying to isolate DNA from Lindow Man, a Bronze Age man whose body was preserved in peat. Although she failed to find any DNA, she discovered that she enjoyed doing lab work and decided to study for a PhD and pursue a career in scientific research.

Q: What do you like best about your career?

ES: I enjoy the variety of it, and the fact that science is a very international business means you get to meet people from all over the world. Also, if things are going well, there’s something very satisfying about being the first person to have made a novel observation.

Q: Can you describe a typical day at work?

ES: My job involves both experimental work and administrative duties. There are legal regulations relating to some of our work and part of my job involves making sure we comply with these regulations.  I also carry out my own research and help others perform theirs, and I’m usually the person to ask if anyone wants to know what we have in the lab and where it is likely to be found. A typical day will usually involve a combination of these activities.

Q: What advice would you give to other women considering a career in science?

ES: Firstly, don’t listen to anyone who says that studying science makes you uncool, weird or a nerd. It’s your life, if you want to do science, go ahead and do it. Don’t worry about what others think.

I would try to keep as many options open for as long as possible, for example I would advise taking a broad based degree such as Biochemistry or Genetics rather than some of the more specialised subjects on offer. You can always specialise later on.

Always consider where the work and the money are, and be realistic. Although I found my undergraduate work on the Lindow Man really interesting, Archaeological Biochemistry is a pretty niche field so I realised fairly quickly that prospects in that area would be limited. In contrast, something like biomedical research provides a much broader scope for funding, research topics and employment opportunities.