Professor David Phillips : Cancer Research UK
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Professor David Phillips

Professor David PhillipsKing's College London

What inspired you to get into science?

Some good teachers and a fascination with wanting to understand how things work.

What subjects did you enjoy at school?

History, English Literature, Chemistry and Physics.

What is your job and what does it involve?

I am a Professor at the Institute of Cancer Research in Sutton, London.

I lead a research team of eight people, investigating certain chemicals in the environment that cause cancer. They do the hands-on research, but I direct it, think up the projects, try to keep the research funding coming in, and get the work written up for publication. I also travel to conferences to present our results, and visit fellow scientists at other places with whom we work on joint projects.

What qualifications do you have?

  • Chemistry degree (four years)
  • PhD in Biochemistry (three years)

How did you become interested in cancer research?

Initially I studied chemistry but came to realise that I was more interested in what went on in living systems. Getting interested in how cancer is caused and the role of environmental chemicals in the process was a natural progression and a good use of my training in chemistry.

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

It’s a job I enjoy and it is challenging. It is never dull, although sometimes it is frustrating when experiments don’t work. But when they do and the answer to a question that you have asked is found, it is very rewarding. It is a job where you never stop learning.

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

Curiosity, and the imagination to want to discover something new.

Patience, because sometimes it takes a while to work out HOW to tackle a problem.

You also have to be critical, both of your own work and that of others - only that way can you do good quality science.

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

Find out more about what it involves. Take an interest in the science going on around you; in magazines, documentaries, books. Go to science exhibitions and museums to find out more. Don’t be put off if some of it is hard to understand. Find out what branches of science interest you and what you might be good at.

3 for Fun

What music do you listen to?


Where did you last go on holiday?


Who are your heroes?

Newton, Ernest Shackleton, Muddy Waters (all dead); Paula Radcliffe (alive)

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Updated: 25 September 2009