My Week – 13 November 2014 - campus events and our research objective

With the academic year in full swing, I am enjoying a week of diverse events that superbly illustrate the range of our education and research strengths and ambitions.

Alan Langlands

A plaque unveiling ceremony at the Brenner Building at St James’s University Hospital got the week off to a celebratory start. It marked the ongoing research partnership between Breast Cancer Campaign and the University that seeks to tackle breast cancer. Most fittingly, the plaque was unveiled by Professor Craig Jordan, the world-renowned alumnus who developed the use of Tamoxifen in the treatment of breast cancer.

Since 2010, the University has been the coordinating centre for the Breast Cancer Campaign Tissue Bank (BCCTB), the first initiative of its kind in the UK. I’m delighted to say that the University recently received a funding renewal of £1.2m to run the Bank until June 2018. During this time, I envisage many new and exciting developments in this field.

I have also attended an event to welcome and congratulate some 68 postgraduate taught (PGT) students who are taking part in the new Postgraduate Support Scheme which is investigating and testing a range of ways to attract under-represented groups into postgraduate education. Our scheme is part of a broader partnership with the Universities of Manchester, Newcastle, Sheffield, Warwick and York – ‘Widening access to postgraduate study and the professions’ – and is part-funded by Higher Education Funding Council for England and the University’s own Alumni Footsteps Fund. The project is piloting financial and academic initiatives, investigating the role of information, advice and guidance, and collecting large datasets to inform and support evaluation.

The students I met were undertaking PGT for a variety of reasons, such as to gain new skills or enter a profession, or as a stepping stone to a career in research and academia, and all were committed to making the most of the opportunity for further study. The event also welcomed stakeholders and partners, including employers who we hope will be able to offer these PGT students support in the form of skills workshops, mentoring or work shadowing opportunities, and possibly funding.

After meeting young people potentially at the beginning of their academic careers, I attended an outstanding lecture by someone recognised as being amongst the very best in her professional field. Professor Sheena Radford’s lecture - ‘Folding proteins – from Astbury to Amyloid and Ageing’ – explained her research which tackles one of the most fascinating questions in biology; how proteins fold (and misfold) and assemble into complex, functional entities.

Sheena’s outstanding work has been recognised by her election to the Fellowship of the Royal Society, and we are extremely proud to have her as Director of the Astbury Centre for Structural Molecular Biology. This hub of research and training combines four magic ingredients: an ambitious and clearly articulated scientific goal “of understanding life in atomic detail”; high-quality PhD programmes; an outstanding research infrastructure; and an unfailing commitment to interdisciplinary working. It makes eminent sense to me that we are currently trying to replicate these conditions in other parts of the University.

I am pleased to say that Sheena’s inspiring lecture was not a one off; the University has agreed to see it as a first step in a longer, deeper discussion about the future of structural molecular biology. To be named ‘The Astbury Conversation’, we intend to host an international meeting in 2016 – and then every two years thereafter as highlight of the University calendar. Our intention is to bring the greatest minds to Leeds – people who have achieved scientific excellence at the interfaces between biology, chemistry, physics and medicine; people who will galvanise international collaboration and inspire our PhD students and post-docs; people who can move beyond the rarefied atmosphere of their own science and bring it to life for students from local schools and the wider public. The Astbury Conversation will be the place to ‘understand life in molecular detail’. Look out for more details in early 2015.

Amidst these events and the general bustle of campus life, it was important to take time to attend the Remembrance Day Service in University Square. This campus tradition had particular significance during this First World War centenary year and was followed by a wreath-laying ceremony at the recently re-dedicated Brotherton War Memorial in the Parkinson Building. These annual events, coupled with the on-going work of the Legacies of War project and the treasure trove of items encompassed by the Liddle Collection, will ensure that our students, staff and visitors are long encouraged to reflect on and explore the many ways in which people have been touched by war and its lasting impact on families, communities and the countries of the world.

Alan Langlands 

Sir Alan Langlands_signature
Send your comments to

Posted in: