Featured People

Fiona Crawford

Name: Fiona Crawford
Job: Associate Director, Roskamp Institute

Subjects taken - Biochemistry and Genetics

How would you describe a typical day in your current job?

I used to be in the lab all day, carrying out molecular research, but these days I'm directing the research and working on planning experiments, analyzing data, developing new hypotheses and also working on business aspects of medical research such as how to advance our promising therapeutics into clinical trials. I also direct the PhD program at our Institute which involves a fair bit of student interaction.

What made you decide to study your degree subject at university?

I had become interested in Recombinant DNA technology while at school - prompted by a terrific article in National Geographic magazine - at that time DNA was a new subject on the A-Level syllabus and as my school teacher refused to teach it (!) I taught myself and was completely captured by the science and the possibilities. I had applied to Queens for Biochemistry, but instead enrolled in a joint honours of Biochemistry and Genetics (there was no straight Genetics degree at that time). There were only seven of us pursuing this degree!

What attracted you to your current job?

My courses at Queen's, in particular the medical genetics courses and my hands on laboratory experience, cemented my interest in medical research. From Queen's I successfully competed for a PhD position at St. Mary's Hospital Medical School in London where I was part of the team that identified the first known genetic causes of Alzheimer's disease. When I moved from London to the US it was in order to continue to work in this, and related fields - my team's research contributions have had significant impact on the development of effective treatments for this devastating disorder. I wanted to be able to continue on this path, and expand into other areas of research but maintaining a focus on understanding the causes, and developing treatments for whatever diseases I was investigating. My job makes this possible, and although it is hard work there is a lot of opportunity and flexibility to explore novel pathways and approaches, and it is incredibly rewarding.

What aspects do you find most satisfying about your current job?

Knowing that what I am doing on a daily basis is actually having, or will have, an impact on human disease is an enormous driver, plus I love the fact that my work is different every day and requires continual learning and integration of new information.

How did your time at Queen's equip you with the personal and professional skills for your chosen career?

My interest and ambitions were fuelled by witnessing first-hand the enthusiasm and passion of many of my lecturers for their chosen subject. Drs. Lorraine Stefani and Ivor Hickey come to mind as being particularly influential. I remember racing to be the one to "do" the medical genetics project with Dr. Stefani in my final year, and once in the lab I knew that that was exactly what I wanted to be doing with my life. Not everyone is so fortunate as to discover at 20 what they want to do with their life, but there is no doubt that this can facilitate a highly productive career. If undecided I think it is key to get early exposure to as many different possible career avenues in order to make the right choices. That is certainly my experience with the interns and students I have mentored over the years.

My time at Queen's also promoted personal and professional development in terms of the need to be self-motivating and self-reliant, and the ability to present and discuss my work and that of others. We had a pretty heavy workload at Queen's, and some very long days, and so (in contrast to students here in the US and perhaps even now in the UK) we learnt to expect hard work, long days and lots of effort for the ultimate reward, and to be efficient with time management in order to co-ordinate classes, research, studying and social time. It sounds trite, but I think you have to be able to push yourself and challenge yourself if you want to achieve something rewarding in which you have pride. Queen's started me on that road.