Welcome to the new GDST Girl for Life, the magazine for the GDST’s alumnae network. In this issue…
- Alumna of the Year Gene genius - Nirupa Murugaesu
Alumna of the Year 2018 Dr Nirupa Murugaesu is at the forefront of an innovative and groundbreaking project to sequence the DNA codes of patients with cancer and rare diseases and to better understand those conditions and transform the way patients are cared for.
Nirupa is the Clinical Lead for Molecular Oncology of the 100,000 Genomes Project – announced by former Prime Minister David Cameron in 2012 as part of the Olympic legacy, and the largest national sequencing project of its kind in the world.
The project involves sequencing the DNA codes of cancer patients and analysing the genome of a tumour to inform doctors and clinicians about the behaviour of that tumour and how a patient could be treated. It allows treatment to be tailored to the individual based on their genetics.
Nirupa explains: “Many cancers are crudely labelled by where in the body they occur. By better understanding the genomic make-up of cancers, we can better select those patients that might benefit from a particular type of treatment. It may also give us a better understanding of whether the tumour is likely to behave in a more or less aggressive manner.”
“The development of the genomics industry in the last ten years has been groundbreaking.”
The first human genome was sequenced in 2000 through the Human Genome Project. It cost $3 billion and took more than ten years to sequence one genome. That work can now be done in one day, with results being interpreted and returned to hospitals within a week.
The 100,000 Genomes Project is developing the field even further. The project’s aim was initially to sequence 100,000 genomes from NHS patients. Now that this has been achieved, the focus has moved toward providing the infrastructure for a Genomic Medicine Service – to be in place this year. The introduction of the medicine service aims to provide equity in cancer genomic testing, and the adoption of a standardised approach for cancer patients across the NHS.
“Another key aspect of the project,” Nirupa says, “was the implementation of a genomic research platform to allow translation into the clinical setting and the development of personalised medicine for cancer patients throughout the NHS.”
“It all takes time – these things don’t happen overnight – but there is now a unique opportunity to transform genomic healthcare, embed genomic testing into routine hospital care, to advance cancer care and improve outcomes for NHS patients.”
A former pupil at Notting Hill & Ealing High School, Nirupa’s education centred on maths and science, setting her on a path towards medicine. She studied at University College London (UCL) before becoming a junior doctor and pursuing a career in oncology.
Nirupa’s early experience in science research sparked her interest in how research could complement and translate into the clinical setting of a hospital.
Later, she moved into the field of genomics as she completed her PhD and post-doctoral training and gained further experience in cancer genomics.
Genomics at that stage was rapidly advancing — thanks to the technology – and Nirupa entered the field at a key moment.
“It was luck, I was at the right place at the right time, which provided me with this significant opportunity and has opened up other avenues and new areas of development,” she says.
- Trailblazer Composer Anna Appleby
Composer Anna Appleby wants to open up new opportunities for women composers, give a voice to the voiceless and empower her young students not to be afraid and let their voices be heard.
After picking up the oboe at the age of ten, Anna had a ‘turning point’ when she was invited to play the Mozart oboe concerto in the school orchestra at Central Newcastle High School (now Newcastle High School for Girls) just five years later.
Now 25, she was encouraged by her school, which placed emphasis on the arts, and the support she was given by music teacher Richard Gooding (who nominated her for the GDST Trailblazer Award).
“My school created a nurturing environment for the arts; the artswere taken seriously and celebrated as much as the sciences and sport. In a sense they were an equal player in the school’s image and ethos and that really helped to foster a community there,” Anna says.
The ‘eccentric’ oboe was Anna’s musical instrument of choice.
“It cuts through the heart of the orchestra, and I think it takes quite a lot of confidence to play it,” she says.
“People often have that relationship with their musical instrument, it can say something that they might not necessarily be able to express [in any other way]. It’s a really powerful thing.”
Anna started writing music at school but composition became her calling during her time at St Hilda’s College, Oxford: she just knew she had to write music.
The idea of creating something from nothing, improvising and trusting your creative instinct is what composing is about, she says.
“You take an idea that’s just yours and you trust it, taking it through a development process that can be quite mathematical,” she says. “But at the root of it, you have to trust your ideas and guide them through a process until a listener will connect with them in some way. It’s an empowering thing to do.”
Anna says that finding your voice is something that takes perseverance; even a composer who is 80 might say they haven’t figured it out yet.
Anna’s two musical styles are clear: a contemporary classic style, which fuses fun, dance-based ideas with emotive melodies; and one in which she uses folk and jazz to uplift and energise people.
She prefers writing for the voice as it’s something immediate that everyone can participate in. But composing is not about sitting around waiting for the ideas to turn up – because they won’t, you have to work at it, she says. “I can’t remember who said this, but it’s a favourite quote of mine – She adds:“I really believe in that, but you must not overwork it either because if you are overworking you can run out of ideas altogether.”
Despite Anna achieving early acclaim for her work – writing for leading orchestras and being the youngest ever Music Fellow with the world-famous Rambert Dance Company – she says the world of musical composition is still one dominated by men, and women are being left out. Even musical history favours men. But the emphasis is shifting and women are challenging decisions made by men, who often choose male programmers and commissioners. “They are unaware of this issue,” Anna says, “and they’ll just perpetuate what they know. So the trick is to challenge and to educate and to motivate by saying ‘actually the only future of classical music and of music and of the arts is to listen to all these women’s voices – we are already there’.”
A leading pioneer of change is Vanessa Reed, Chief Executive of the Performing Rights Society (PRS). She wants to see 50/50 commissioning of men and women composers in classical music by 2022, and the BBC Proms has already signed up to the initiative.
Anna is also a key part of the change and in October 2018 she was involved in the Sound Festival, a new music festival in Aberdeen that is addressing the imbalance of programme commissioning.
Anna says she also wants to see classical music reflect all parts of society, with composers of all ethnicities, disabilities and different gender identities involved in the arts.
“Being a woman from a privileged background, I have this opportunity to speak and to say this all needs to change for everyone – classical music is completely irrelevant and doesn’t belong in today’s society if it does not represent the population.”
One of Anna’s career highlights has been writing for Streetwise Opera, a performing arts charity for people who are or have been homeless.
She says: “It changes the conversation around homelessness, it changes the image and says to society ‘look at these people, they have something to offer you and challenge you with’. It’s not a one way system. Homelessness does not define them, it’s part of their experience and they can use that to make amazing art.”
Anna wants more girls and women to be part of the music world and for their voices to be heard.
“If you have something to say, find it and say it,” she says. “You have greater power using your voice than anything else, and music is a way of amplifying that voice.”
- Memories Naughty Miriam Margolyes
Award-winning actor Miriam Margolyes OBE – who played Professor Sprout in the Harry Potter films and appeared recently in TV’s Call the Midwife – tells us why she still loves Oxford High School.
“I love my school passionately. I loved it then, and I love it now. I think what made it special was, of course, the people I was at school with, and the teachers. We had a very remarkable headmistress, Violet Stack, who was tall with a large bosom, sticky-out teeth and a very firm, authoritarian manner. She had taught at Holloway Prison, and I think she brought some of her expertise from the prison to the school.
The children at the school were nearly all the children of dons – so, massively intelligent parents, which I think is a challenge for most schools. And we felt that we were the cream of the cream.
We were given every opportunity for extra-curricular activities, which in my case, was mostly learning poetry and going to poetry festivals and recitals. So that was kind of the beginning of my being a performer I suppose. Actually I think one is born a performer – so I’d probably have become a performer if I’d gone to Milham Ford School, which was the school that I’d won free entrance to at 11+. But my parents, wisely and very generously decided that I should remain at the High School, where I’d been since I was four.
It would be impossible to sum up my school in five words. I can just tell you that the teachers were brilliant, the children were challenging and inventive and very different from each other. There was a variety there that was exciting. And we were there during the 1950s and 60s, which was a great time: the world was an exciting place then and school made it more exciting.
I was very naughty at school and very cleverly, when I got to the right age, the teachers made me a prefect, and I was much tougher on the naughty children than ordinary people would have been who’d been behaving properly. But as Miss Maddron, my beloved French teacher, said to me: ‘You were naughty, Miriam, not wicked.’
The High School wasn’t just for me until I was 18. It’s with me now. Because the people that I love in my life are my old school friends. Every now and again we have reunions, and we rush towards each other and we hug each other. We still send each other birthday emails. The school is with me – it has never left me.”
- Entrepreneurs Fleur Emery - just do it
Serial entrepreneur Fleur Emery offers a few tips on launching your own business. So, what’s your big idea?
“My name is Fleur and I’m an entrepreneur. That is to say; twelve years ago, having become frustrated by my inability to decode the mystifying world of work, I started a porridge company from my kitchen table which, more down to luck than skill, was a surprise success and made it as far as Waitrose and beyond. Today, I am working on my third start-up. Suc – cess is more down to skill than luck these days and, happily, I often find myself sharing my experience with novice entrepreneurs; passing on the things I’d wish I’d known when I started out. So, if you’ve ever thought that the life of a female founder is for you, here is my quick-guide to going it alone…
The first thing that you need to do is ask yourself if you have the right personality for the job. In retrospect, the biggest clue that I was the type was actually my difficulty working for other people. I did well at school (Portsmouth High, LOVED it there), graduated from UCL but despite getting good jobs in the third sector, the City and the NHS, I just couldn’t settle down. At the time I felt baffled and defeated but I now know that business founders often share my need to be involved in all aspects of a project and struggle to be happy when they are limited to working on isolated tasks. If this rings bells with you then you are in good company.
The second personality trait to look out for is curiosity: “Founders are the people constantly asking questions and having ideas.” In the mainstream world of work, I hear people saying that they would like to leave and ‘do their own thing’ but complaining that they can’t think of a business to start. That is not a problem for a natural entrepreneur, in fact usually the reverse is true and they find it hard to narrow their list of exciting ideas down to one and run with it.
So, if this is you and you have an idea that’s keeping you up all night, what next? I love the expression ‘start some – where’ and would encourage you to just take a single sheet of paper and write, in plain terms what you plan to do and how. This is a business plan in its simplest form. Doing that will help you work out basic things like what your product or service is, who your customer is and how you are going to sell to them (route to market). You can then also get on Google and look at the number of other businesses doing the same thing (which will tell you how crowded the market is), try and estimate how much money they might be making and take a guess at both your chance of success and what that success might look like. Record the facts from your research that support your ‘best guess’ conclusion so that as you find out more information you can adjust it.
Next, take these findings and consider how you could continue to meet your own basic needs and responsibilities or ‘keep the lights on’ in your life while running the business. This is an assessment of how viable the project is. If you can get this far and are still saying ‘yes I think I can do this’ then congratulations, you are at concept stage and are ready to get out and meet fellow entrepreneurs and get going.
Of course, this is super-simplified, but the good news is that there is masses of support available and there really has never been a better time to be an entrepreneur. Networking groups or even Facebook pages can provide free information and fellowship; government start-up loans, crowd-funding and tax relief for investors in the form of the Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS) can help you get the money you need; and mentorship can keep you on track.
I have been lucky enough to have had great expert guidance at different stages of my career and have recently become involved with the GDST mentoring scheme. I’d encourage you to get online and find out what is available to you. As with most things in life, talking to people who have done what you plan to do is always a great place to start – and the great thing about starting a business is that, “You really can make it up as you go along, and do it your way” which, if you are anything like me really is the only way to go.”