Professor Vikki Rand

Director of the National Horizons Centre at Teesside University

Professor Vikki Rand, Director of the National Horizons Centre (NHC) at Teesside University and is responsible for leading the NHC’s development as a centre of excellence for the biosciences and healthcare sectors.

Tell us more about your role at Teesside University.

The focus of the NHC is to work in partnership with industry, the NHS and other stakeholders to ensure that provision is driven by current and planned needs for research, innovation, skills and talent. In addition to this leadership role, I am Professor of Biosciences and an active researcher leading projects across different areas of cancer genomics, digital health and translational healthcare research.

What do you enjoy most about working in your sector?

The ability to make real-world impact. I love science and technology and have been fortunate to have a career where my work has contributed to improving knowledge and people’s health. I particularly enjoy applying new technology to address key clinical questions and working with so many clever people from different backgrounds to make a difference. In my current role as Director of the NHC I am really enjoying supporting the full research and innovation lifecycle in the sector, from early diagnosis of diseases to manufacturing medicines with a focus on patient benefit locally, nationally and internationally.

How important is innovation within your sector?

Innovation is central to the biosciences and healthcare sectors. Developing new ways to address clinical and industry questions or alleviate sector pressures is key. This could be a new device for detecting and monitoring diseases to enable the right treatment to be delivered at the earliest point to improve patient survival. Or it could be developing ways to manufacture and deliver new type of treatment quickly and cheaply, such as mRNA vaccines or CAR-T. Or it could be innovative ways to increase awareness and communication with patients and the public.

What professional achievement are you most proud of?

I am most proud of being in a leadership role in STEM and what I have achieved so far. My PhD was part of the Human Genome Project, which is the equivalent of walking on the moon in the biology world. I am proud to have been at the forefront of genomics and to have had the opportunity to meet and work with people to help drive our knowledge of cancer and push the limits of technology. It is amazing to see that in 20 years since the human genome was published how far we have come and how much closer testing and treatments are to the clinic.

What, if any, are the challenges of being a woman working in your sector?

Role models and mentorship. I think self-confidence and comparing yourself negatively with others are big challenges for women in the sector. I have personally struggled with this, which maybe a surprise considering what I do as a job. My motivation throughout my career, and particularly as I have moved onto different roles, has been to be a role model for girls and women. Female leaders and role models have been few and far between throughout my career, and there is still a lack of female leaders in STEM. This makes it harder for girls and women to find role models and mentors in the field.

What advice would you give to other women working in your sector?

Make your voice heard and go for opportunities. Find out what makes you passionate and use that to drive yourself forward. As a well-known company says, “Just do it”.

What would you say were the key challenges in your sector that currently prevent innovation moving forward?

Funding and entrepreneurship! Traditional academic research and enterprise don’t necessarily marry up as well as they could. Innovation often needs to happen at pace and funding structures and, importantly training, often don’t enable this. I think it is important to develop researchers with entrepreneurial skills within academia and the NHS who have the toolkit drive innovation.

Do you find any particular challenges as a woman working in the North of England?

I think we have a strong community of women in STEM across the north east that are tackling some of the issues and are mentors. I think the challenge is making this known across the region to inspire all genders at all ages into the sector and change the culture to achieve equality.

You can follow Vikki on X (formerly Twitter) at @vikkirand the NHC at @TU_NHC and Teesside University and @TeessideUni


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