Women in Science
Xin was born and grew up in China. She did a degree in biochemistry. After her MSc she was awarded a Research Training Fellowship by WHO, and moved to London. She did her PhD and then won another fellowship. She published widely and in 1993 started her own independent research group, funded by the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research.
© Women in Science
at the time of the interview - April 2015
Xin is a Professor of Cancer Biology in the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, based in the Nuffield Department of Medicine. She has two children.
at the time of the interview - April 2015
Xin grew up in China during the Cultural Revolution (1966-76). In China at that time boys and girls were treated equally and it was said that “Women hold half of the sky”. There was a change in government after the culture revolution and fortunately she was part of the first group of students who entered University via national examinations. Although her parents were doctors, she decided that she wanted to study biochemistry because she felt that science would have a broader impact than clinical medicine. After she graduated she became interested in cell biology and did a Master’s Degree in Beijing at the Cancer Institute, Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences and Peking Union Medical College. The Director of the Cancer Institute at that time was a woman and half of the PI’s were women too, so she had good role models. Women could take their babies to child care facilities at work places and it is Chinese culture that grand-parents are actively involved in the care of their grandchildren.
I think for anyone [to] write a grant application they need to really have clear thinking ... And it’s about novelty and then feasibility. That’s really two important things they need to think through
In the mid 1980’s Xin applied for a fellowship from the WHO. She was awarded a Research Training Fellowship and moved to London to what was then the Imperial Cancer Research Fund Institute. Xin’s early days in London were difficult because she didn’t speak much English. She was one of the two Chinese people in the whole building of about 700 people. After one year in London Xin started her PhD and received good support from her PhD supervisor, a woman, and gradually life became easier, and she managed to publish a paper in Cell.
Xin was married in China before coming to the UK and she was joined by her husband two years later. After her PhD, Xin went to another laboratory. She won a fellowship from what was then the Cancer Research Campaign. This was for five years, but after three years, having published very successfully, she decided to start her own independent group, and in 1993 she joined the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research (LICR), which was based at St Mary’s Hospital, Imperial College London. She is still funded by the Institute. Xin was appointed as the Branch Director of the former Ludwig Institute London Branch and in July 2007 Xin relocated the branch to Oxford.
When Xin moved to Oxford she had two daughters, one in primary school, and one about to start secondary school. When the children were younger they had good child minders. Xin’s husband has also been a strong supporter and has taken on much of the child care responsibilities. Xin took less than three months maternity leave for each baby, and kept in touch with the lab by phone. She wanted to return to work full time because her research was exciting and moving very fast. When the children were young there were practical difficulties. However Xin grew up in a culture where there is minimal gender difference in workplace and at home, therefore she does not feel there should be a difference.
Xin still works very hard. She mainly teaches postgraduate students as well as running her lab and directs LICR Oxford. She tries to keep one day each week for other activities. She keeps in touch with her children via Skype and Facebook if she is away from home. Xin thinks that a career in science is wonderful and recommends persistence and optimism. Background/Nationality: Chinese origin but now a British national.