Group leaders share their stories: “Get to know your Dunn School PIs” begins with Professor Jordan Raff

Group leaders share their stories: “Get to know your Dunn School PIs” begins with Professor Jordan Raff

A new event, organised by the Postdoc Association with support from the Graduate Student Association, aims at revealing the secrets behind the successful careers of the Principal Investigators (PIs) at the Dunn School. Named “Get to know your Dunn School PIs”, the series gives a chance to students, postdocs and staff members to hear first-hand the back stories of our department’s top scientists, as well as the twists and turns in their academic careers.

“While some may make it seem as though achievements fall into their laps, we all know that the academic journey is a tough one, full of challenges and obstacles to overcome. This series is an opportunity to hear directly from our PIs about how they got where they are today” said organisers Gytis Jankevicius and Derek Xu.

The first event of the series took place on the 20th of February at the Dunn School EPA seminar room and showcased Professor Jordan Raff, who described how his career progressed: from being a “quite-good, but not excellent” undergraduate Biochemistry student (in his own words); to landing a PhD position in David Glover’s lab; to moving to USCF to work with the great Bruce Alberts; and moving back to the UK to start his own research group at the Gurdon Institute in Cambridge, before securing his current job in Oxford.

Jordan inspired those who attended – around 50 students and postdocs – with honest stories about his accomplishments and encouraging pointers on what worked for him in being successful as an academic scientist. He also referred to those mistakes from which he learned and how he has always strategically used the best of his abilities to achieve his goals. Some of the messages given by Jordan were: “You can work on anything and find an interesting aspect of it to study; just take the time to think about it –that’s where the creativity comes from”. When asked about a good piece of advice that he received, Jordan Raff quoted renowned biologist Professor Richard Hynes: “Don’t worry about what you can’t change”.

Jordan answered several questions from the audience and the moderator Gytis Jankevicius (a postdoc in I. Ahel’s lab), who co-organised the event together with Derek Xu (a graduate student in A. Baena’s lab). The discussion that followed covered topics including grant writing skills, keeping a good work-life balance, moving across continents (with his family), collaborating with other scientists and key factors involving the transition from being a postdoc to a PI.

The event was well received amongst both students and postdocs, and the organisers are finishing up the schedule with more Dunn School PIs for the upcoming months.

The first session of the PI series was insightful, engaging and fun, which was very much down to Jordan’s candid recall about his experience coming through the ranks. It was good to hear the contrast from today's much tougher scientific environment that young Investigators face. It certainly gave 'B' students a glimmer of hope!”, said postdoc Iqbal Dulloo.

It felt like a really honest chat, rather than your typical careers’ talk. Jordan did not gloss over the hardships or the importance of luck, but he also managed to convey great passion for this line of work and hope for the future generations. He made it sound totally worth it, and I found it very inspirational!" said graduate student Ines Alvarez Rodrigo.

To read more about the Dunn School group leaders browse their research group pages at: https://www.path.ox.ac.uk/content/research-groups

To read more about Jordan Raff’s lab: http://www2.bioch.ox.ac.uk/nanogroup/rafflab_home.html

Written by Dr Anna Caballe (@caballe_anna)

Thursday, February 22, 2018 - 16