Chris Lehane : Cancer Research UK
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Chris Lehane

*Senior Scientific Officer, London Research Institute

What inspired you to get into science?

My mother is a nurse and I was always interested in disease and how it presents itself. I’m too squeamish to be a nurse, though! I also did some work experience in a hospital pathology lab and thoroughly enjoyed it, and this made me think about making a career of it.

What subjects did you enjoy at school?

Definitely, Biology - I wasn’t so keen on Chemistry and Physics. I also quite enjoyed English.

What is your job and what does it involve?

I’m a Senior Scientific Officer at the London Research Institute. I organise the running of a research lab (eight to ten people), ensuring everybody has the equipment supplies they require for their experiments. I also help new members of staff in the lab and show them some of the basic techniques we carry out, if they haven’t done them before. I have a research project that I work on about 50 per cent of the time - I am studying some of the key steps in how yeast cells multiply.

What qualifications do you have?

  • BTEC National Diploma in Science
  • Honours degree in Applied Biology

I left school at 16, wasn’t sure what to do, took a year out and then started a BTEC National Diploma in Science at a further education college for two years. After that I started working, and was encouraged to do my degree part time, over four years, supported by Cancer Research UK.

How did you become interested in cancer research?

Cancer is such a devastating disease and many people have, or will have, some personal experience of it. The feeling that you are doing something important was a driving force for me.

What are the best and worst things about being a scientist?


  • The best thing is feeling that you are doing something worthwhile.
  • It also feels great when you discover something that nobody else has - though this obviously doesn’t happen every day!
  • It’s a constant learning environment, so every day is different.


  • At times, it can be very frustrating - often experiments don’t work and require troubleshooting and some repetition.
  • The hours can be long, especially if you have difficult experiments to do.
  • The pay isn’t great, so that can be quite difficult when living and working in London or other big cities.

What qualities do you think it takes to be a good scientist?

Determination is quite important, and perseverance. You have to be patient, experiments can take some time and, in some cases, the positive results are few and far between. Being a good communicator is also an important quality - on many occasions you are required to give talks and discuss your work. Being able to explain what you do benefits the audience and yourself, as you get suggestions and advice.

What advice do you have for young people who are interested in getting into science?

Science isn’t for everyone, but if you are inquisitive and keen on problem solving, then it’s worth seeing if you like it. It’s quite a broad area to work in, so even if you don’t think you’d like research, there are other science-based jobs out there that can be equally rewarding. Teaching is an obvious one, but science publishing, or careers in the pharmaceutical industry are also options.

3 for Fun

What music do you listen to?

Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash

How would you spend a perfect day away from work?

Shopping followed by the cinema and a nice meal.

If you had a super power, what would it be?

Time travel

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Updated: 25 September 2009