Dr. David Kent, Ph.D., is a principal investigator in the Department of Haematology at the University of Cambridge focusing on Single Cell Fate Choid in Normal and Malignant Stem Cells. He has been working in the hematology and stem cells scientific field for 11 years and has been a member of ISEH for 9 of those years. Dr. Kent also serves as the Stem Cell Institute’s Public Engagement Champion. He created and authored The Black Hole a website and blog for education and training of scientist. Dr. Kent kindly accepted Connection's invitation to participate in a Q&A session. Below he shares with us his most influential senior investigator, approach to mentoring, biggest challenge he sees facing the field and his experiences with ISEH
Who was your most influential senior investigator mentor and how did he or she help you?
Connie Eaves – my PhD supervisor. From day one is was obvious that she was going to challenge the way I thought about science. She provided an incredible balance of motivation and freedom and had an uncanny ability to know when you needed boosting up or knocking down – both of which are extremely useful. I still regularly seek Connie’s advice and input in science and in life despite having left her lab 6 years ago.
How are you helping to mentor new investigators at your lab/facility?
I’ve just started my group, but I am trying to give people the freedom to develop their own projects and eventually take their ideas out on their own – I think the worst thing a young investigator can do is be protective over ideas in the lab. My approach is to get the lab to work as a team, if we succeed, then everyone benefits. To achieve this, every 3-4 lab meetings we have a general discussion about the big ideas in the field, whether we are positioned to ask particular questions as a group and how we can work together on projects to achieve our goals. I have regular appraisals with my group members to make sure their career is on track (for academic or otherwise!) and encourage them to be flexible in their thinking about science.
What is the most exciting study or project happening at your lab/facility?
We’ve recently started to link biological and molecular outcomes in single stem cells (Schulte et al., Exp Hem 2015 and Wilson et al., Cell Stem Cell 2015). While the technique of index-sorting has been around since the 1990s, the single cell functional and molecular assays have only recently been sufficiently advanced to be done on this scale. For stem cell biologists with defined single cell assays in any system, these datasets can now be linked meaning that we can assess a huge number of variables in a single experiment. I should also mention that Peggy Goodell was a catalyst for sending us down that path, underscoring the importance of being open to new ideas outside of your immediate experimental setup.
What do you consider the biggest challenge currently facing the hematology and stem cells scientific field and how can it be managed?
The pressure on young scientists is enormous and the way we educate and train needs to adapt in order to avoid scientific misconduct, to keep the best and brightest in scientific careers, and to ensure that we move science forward not backward. The career has become more important than the science in so many cases and this is really distressing. Institutions need to stop demonizing non-academic careers and hiring committees need to focus on the science and the candidate rather than the journal in which the work was published. Individuals need to ask themselves the question of whether they enjoy their work and not over-value the particular version of life success that has been put before them.
What advice do you have for new investigators entering this scientific field?
Science is a team sport and a group leader should have plenty of ideas to keep their lab going. Protecting a single idea or concept (especially when the postdoc or student may have contributed to its development) is just petty. Maybe I’m naïve and haven’t been hardened by bad experiences, but I’m optimistic that working together with former trainees is far more beneficial than drawing a line in the sand and standing on opposite sides (I still collaborate with my PhD and postdoc mentors). In the end, the public and/or charities have paid for most of the research and deserve to have us working toward common goals.
What do you find most valuable about ISEH?
It has such an active membership – the New Investigator Committee is extremely good (hat tip in particular to the current group of Teresa, Peter, Kena, Michael and co) and the leadership appears really receptive to new ideas. ISEH is a society that works in partnership with its members and it really comes through at the Annual Meeting.
Why do you attend the ISEH Annual Scientific Meeting?
It’s the right size and has a good balance of clinical/experimental work. It rotates across the world and captures a broad set of researchers as a result. Finally, it facilitates interaction between group leaders and trainees – an essential for knowledge transfer and a great place to find a postdoc opportunity!
What is your favorite ISEH Annual Scientific Meeting memory?
So tough to answer this – but I think one of the highlights has to be the boat ride in Hamburg 2007 – for me it was the first time I’d properly interacted with the European Hematology community and I met some excellent international colleagues (and my eventual postdoc supervisor).
Some fun facts about Dr. Kent:
- His favorite hobbies include: Football (the European kind); squash; and trying to save science (the blogging)
- Favorite book: Lord of the Flies, by William Goldin.
- Favorite movie: Shawshank Redemption
- If you could meet one person (dead or alive) who would it be and why? Martin Luther – breaking up something as powerful as the church is impressive…