Clinician Scientist Fellow - Dr Ferdia Gallagher

Dr Ferdia Gallagher is a CRUK Clinician Scientist Fellow in the Department of Radiology, University of Cambridge, and an Honorary Consultant Radiologist at Addenbrooke's Hospital Cambridge.

Dr Ferdia Gallagher, CRUK Clinician Scientist Fellow Research overview

As a radiologist and a clinician scientist, I am interested in how new imaging techniques can be used to probe basic biological processes in oncology. More specifically, our research uses MRI and PET to image tissue structure and metabolism in oncology, and focuses on how these approaches can be translated into methods that will improve patient outcome.


What inspired you to pursue a career in clinical academia?

I have always been interested in asking scientific questions and seeking the answers to those questions. My father, a mathematician and teacher, instilled my initial interest in science. I have been fortunate to have many inspiring teachers during my medical training and PhD. My clinical training has allowed me to identify how basic scientific discoveries can benefit patients, and conversely, what important clinical questions need to addressed by the scientific community.

Science is becoming increasingly multidisciplinary. We learn more by being open to others’ ideas and working together than we do by working in isolation

What do you wish you’d known about the application and interview process when you were applying for your first Fellowship position?

The key piece of advice I can make to those undertaking this process is that you need to believe in your project and what it can deliver, and show the panel you are enthusiastic about achieving this. They will ask some challenging questions, but they want to invest in someone was has the potential to lead a research group in the future, and you need to convince them that you have that capability.

What do you find is most difficult aspect of applying for a grant?

Generally the challenge is the overall orchestration of the application. It takes time to determine the financial aspects required to make the grant possible, as well as getting all the necessary signatures. My advice is to start early and organise meetings to discuss the steps that need to be undertaken.

What has funding from Cancer Research UK helped you achieve?

CRUK funded my PhD, and this initial funding was crucial in helping me to decide my future research direction in molecular imaging. It has been instrumental in allowing me to attain my current Clinician Scientist Fellowship. My fellowship, as well as some of the staff and students who work with me, are funded by CRUK and I am very grateful for all the donations and to all the fundraisers for making this possible.

My fellowship has allowed me to develop independence; I now lead a group working in the area of molecular and functional imaging. One of the most difficult steps in an academic career is developing an independent group and funding for this is often a bottleneck for many aspiring researchers. CRUK has invested heavily in this area and is continuing to evolve this funding stream to ensure that future leaders in the field of cancer researcher are given the opportunity to develop their careers.

What has surprised you about a career as a clinical academic?

Although academia is highly competitive, it is surprising how collaborative most academics are. The vast majority of scientists are not only willing to help when asked, but actually very keen to do so. Science is becoming increasingly multidisciplinary, particularly in my field of imaging. We learn more by being open to others’ ideas and working together than we do by working in isolation: we benefit, science benefits and importantly so do our patients.

How do you manage your research and clinical commitments?

Balancing my many commitments is a challenge! Learning to prioritise research, clinical commitments and teaching takes time. The Clinician Scientist Fellowship allows me time to develop this skill and a degree of autonomy. This job diversity is one of the attractions of clinical academia. Developing a work-life balance is just as important – my wife and two young daughters are great at reminding me of this.

You need to believe in your project and what it can deliver, and show the panel you are enthusiastic about achieving this

What is the biggest challenge you face on a daily basis?

Helping the people who work with me to achieve their potential and to succeed in their work. It is important to understand the different skills that individuals bring to a project. Developing realistic objectives and expectations on both sides is important to allow each individual to succeed. 

What are you most proud of in your career?

Over the last 10 years we have been developing a method for imaging tissue metabolism with MRI termed hyperpolarized carbon-13 imaging. This work started with simple cell experiments and will culminate very shortly in our first human studies. There is a great deal of satisfaction in seeing a technique mature to this point and we will be undertaking some first-in-human studies in cancer patients in Cambridge as part of this work.

What do you hope to be doing in 10 years’ time?

This is a hard question. One of the attractions of what I do is that my job is highly varied and constantly changing as new technology is developed, which makes my role very exciting. I really enjoy working with young scientists and increasingly I am taking on committee roles both nationally and internationally which helps shape future research priorities. To answer your question a different way, if I won the lottery I would not dream of resigning!

What do you look for in a role model and why?

There are a great many people who have been great role models over my career. I have learnt different aspects of the job from various individuals – I hope that I can emulate them so that I too might be able to pass on their enthusiasm to the next generation of clinician scientists.

Find out more

If Ferdia's story has inspired you, find out more about eligibility for this funding scheme and how to make an application.