Howdy, science fans! Please give your attention to Lucy, our first Science Cheerleader from the United Kingdom, where she cheered for the University of Southampton and is now working as clinical trial manager for a cancer institute.
Hi, Lucy! What got you into science?
I was always interested in how things worked, but it was when I realized that science was part of so many things I enjoyed that I started to take a real interest in it. I remember being at a big dance exhibition in London and hearing people talk about ‘dance science’ and describing how they were using science to make them better dancers. This fascinated me and I started to look up ways science influenced other things I enjoyed, like cheerleading, make-up, and food. I also liked how studying science meant I could make a change in the world in some way; always thought that was pretty cool.
What is your degree in and from where?
Biomedical science, University of Southampton. This path involved a range of topics, including genetics, neuroscience, public health, and nutrition.
Favorite and/or most challenging courses you took to prepare for your degree? Why?
My favorite module in my degree was one on public health education; we got to teach local kids about osteoporosis and the importance of drinking milk! The kids loved that we used aero chocolate to demonstrate bone density!
You’re working for the Institute of Cancer Research, managing cancer clinical trials. What got you interested in that?
I wanted to do something that made a positive difference in people’s lives and where I got to use my medical knowledge. I also didn’t want to be in a lab all the time, so working on clinical trials suited me well. In my role as Data Manager I manage the data we collect from patients who are trying some amazing new cancer treatments. I also help with the setup of new trials and randomizing patients into trials. I like that I am doing something that helps people and that I am part of the fight against cancer!
You’ve got a science-themed blog, SparklyScience.com. Who is your audience and what topics do you cover?
My blog is targeted towards people who may not have studied science, and my aim is to get people interested in it through explaining the science behind everyday things. I cover topics like make-up, nutrition, and things that are trending in the news to show that science can be relevant to our lives and amusing too! It’s quite lighthearted and easy to read. Science doesn’t have to be serious and boring; it can be sparkly and fun!
What’s cheerleading in the United Kingdom like? Whom do you cheer for?
Cheerleading in the UK has exploded in popularity in the past 10 years, it is HUGE here now! Just about every University has its own cheerleading team, and many level 5 and 6 all-star teams are going to Worlds every year! In many teams the stunting and tumbling is up there with the top US programs. It has come such a long way from when I started cheer 11 years ago, back then you would have one tumbler in each team and level 2 or 3 was as high as things went, now we have huge competitions, with hundreds of teams all over the country! We also have some teams of NFL-style cheerleaders who cheer for sports teams and events, including the London 2012 Olympics! When I was a kid I cheered for a team called Pom Crazy, which was one of the first all-star cheer teams in the UK! I also did pom dance with a team called Cheer Magic. I cheered again at University with the Southampton Vixens; they have competitive cheer and hip hop squads, and I was part of the game day squad, which would be the equivalent of a ‘varsity’ team at a college in the US. We cheered at every American football game for the Southampton Stags, and took part in many other performances and events. Cheering was my favorite thing about Uni!
Best part of your day job?
Getting to be the first to hear about the amazing advances we are making in cancer treatments! It is amazing what the scientists can do and it provides so much hope for the future. I feel very privileged that I get to be a part of the process that brings these treatments to the patients.
Which came first, your interest in science or cheerleading?
Cheerleading came first, but when I recognized the role of science in cheer I became more interested in both!
What’s your day job like?
When a scientist discovers a new treatment for cancer in the lab, it has to be tested first on a small group of people, and then on a larger group of people. This allows us to see how well the treatment works and the best dose to give it in, this is known as a ‘clinical trial.’ The patients who try these treatments have scans and blood tests so we can see how well the drug is working, and my job is to collect and look at all the results from these tests and to work with a statistician (who is really good at math) to work out how good a new treatment is. I also randomly allocate patients to treatments in our trials, which is important so we can compare one treatment against another one without any bias.
What does it mean for you to be a scientist?
Cancer is something that affects everyone’s lives, which is why trialing new drugs so they can be licensed and used in hospitals is so important! I use my knowledge about databases and data to help these trials run efficiently so we can get the results analyzed as quickly as possible, and I use my knowledge on cancer, radiotherapy, and drugs to help with the setup and running of these trials. Clinical trials are necessary to finding better treatments and eventually a cure for all cancers.
How do the qualities that made you a great cheerleader benefit you in your science career?
All areas of science and engineering involve team work, which is something I learned a lot about being a cheerleader! Juggling studying and cheer at University helped me to learn how to manage my time well, which is essential in a busy science career. Cheer also taught me perseverance and positivity, which are essential when things don’t always work the way you want them to.
How do you feel about breaking down negative stereotypes about cheerleaders? Have you faced a situation where you had to challenge a stereotype about cheerleaders [or scientists]?
I can’t stand the stereotype that cheerleaders are dumb! At University people definitely underestimated me when I told them I was a cheerleader, and when I said I was also a biomed student they didn’t always believe me. But I proved them wrong!
What do you think the greatest challenge in your field is?
Finding treatments for rare cancers, and treatments that cancer cells won’t become resistant to. Minimizing side effects of treatment is a big challenge too.
What’s the best advice someone gave you in your career?
To always keep learning, no matter what stage of your career you are in! It keeps things interesting and makes you better at what you do.
Best cheerleading experience?
My first ever competition when I was 11! I remember the entire routine vividly, and I still have the music from it on my iTunes. From that day I fell in love with cheer.
Best science-related experience?
When I got to film an episode for a show on the Discovery Channel called ‘breaking magic.’ This was about the link between science and magic. Magician Ben Hanlin used an algorithm in his iPad to read my mind!
If you could rewind the clock and change your degree, would you? If so, to what and why? If not, why not?
I have always been interested in psychology, but I think I made the right decision with biomed as I got to learn about such a wide range of topics!
What advice would you give your 12-year-old self?
To learn to tumble properly while I was still small, and to not bother with boys until I was older.
What’s one thing people might find especially surprising about you?
I used to work for the Queen! I worked at Buckingham Palace over the summer a few years ago – such an incredible experience!
Apart from work and cheering, what are some of your favorite activities?
I’m a typical British girl in that I love eating roast dinners and drinking tea! I also love doing Zumba and Pilates, watching Modern Family and exploring unusual places in London! I am a New York Knicks fan, and an Arsenal football fan (that’s soccer to you). I also love One Direction, Taylor Swift, and Beyonce!
What are your plans for the future?
To continue working in the fight against cancer, to write more on my blog and to get more involved in encouraging young people to choose science!
Why do you want to be a Science Cheerleader?
Because I love science and cheer, and want to use my favorite sport to encourage people to take up science! I also want to challenge the stereotypes of scientists and cheerleaders.