3 women in science share their perspectives on working in cancer research
Kellie Bramlet Blackburn
Women account for 1 in 3 researchers across the globe. At MD Anderson, women play a vital part in our research community. They are leaders, physicians, innovators, drug developers, engineers, mentors and more. Every day, they develop breakthroughs that transform the lives of patients.
What inspired you to pursue a career in cancer research?
Litton:My first job in health care was as a study coordinator in a breast evaluation center at a large cancer hospital. Once I saw the melding of patient care and clinical research with the hope of novel therapies, I was hooked. I knew that this was the path that I could take to cure and help more patients with cancer.
Pollard-Larkin: During college, my mom got diagnosed with breast cancer, and that’s when I decided to go to graduate school. There’s nothing more defining for your life than applying all of your smarts and your caring to a field, and that’s what my career in medical physics has allowed me to do.
Spencer: My primary motivation for embarking on a career in cancer research stems from the profound resilience demonstrated by individuals impacted by this disease. My personal experience with individuals affected by cancer has underscored the urgency and importance of this field. Driven by a lifelong passion for science and a fervent desire to effect meaningful change in the lives of others, I’ve found it immensely gratifying to merge these aspirations in pursuit of cancer research.
How have you overcome challenges in your career based on your sex?
Litton:For me, a career in clinical research connects me so wholly with our entire mission at MD Anderson. By always trying to learn more ways to fight and end cancer, I know I am helping my patients and other patients in other clinics in other hospitals, even in other countries. Not every experiment or study works, but, boy, when it does — and someone has more time, or better time, or fewer side effects and can live their life better — there is nothing like it.
Pollard-Larkin: I have partnered with other smart, courageous women scientists. We support each other at every opportunity we get!
Spencer: Being a woman in science and specifically an African American woman in science has presented its share of challenges. However, I approach each obstacle with a resolute determination, coupled with an unwavering commitment to maintaining an open-minded perspective. I try to approach any obstacle with a fearless attitude, enabling me to confront these challenges with confidence and adaptability.
What is your advice for young women considering a research career?
Litton:I wish I had some great piece of advice here on being a mom during medical training and beyond that made everything better, so when I find that I’ll let you all know, too. I think we put so much on ourselves to be present for so many places in our lives all at once. So, my advice is to give yourself some grace. This is a marathon, and you do not have to accomplish everything all at once and in record time. Sometimes, you will focus on your kids more or your spouse/partner more, and sometimes you have to work crazy hours and shop in the hospital gift store. But give yourself grace. And it is OK to carve some time out for yourself as well.
Pollard-Larkin: Go for it, and don’t look back! Biomedical research needs every willing participant, and you have so much to contribute.
Spencer: My advice for young women is to cultivate unwavering self-trust and belief. Embrace strength and fearlessness in navigating any situation. While the research journey may appear daunting, persevere without faltering.