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May 2016 Alumni of the month

Ros Russell in front of window

Ros Russell

MSc Computer Science 2000

1. Tell us about yourself. 

Born in Bangkok 1972 to a British dad and Thai mum, I lived in Hong Kong while both my parents worked there as architects. We then moved to the UK in 1983, the year I also discovered Ella, Nina, Aretha and jazz - it changed my life forever!

I did a degree in Biology at Royal Holloway, University of London (1991-1994) and then a Master’s in Medical Parasitology at The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (1995).

Soon after I started my first lab job in Cambridge, there was a mini biotech boom in Cambridge and I joined a small Cambridge University spin out company (1997), where I was first exposed to the huge torrents of data pouring out of high-throughput Genomics technologies – the challenge was to sift through this data to find markers for disease or drug targets. 

To fully make sense of all this data and to be more hands-on with it all, I did a part-time Master’s in Computer Science at Anglia Ruskin (1997-2000) while I was still working full-time. I then moved on to do a PhD in Genetics and Computational Biology at the University of Cambridge at the Genome Campus in Hinxton (1999 - 2003).

I have lived and worked as a research scientist in Cambridge for twenty years in various different areas in both industry and in academia: initially in parasitology and infectious diseases and then I moved into immunology, then cancer biology, also moving from the ‘wet’ lab into bioinformatics and computational biology at Cancer Research UK. I consider myself now to be a ‘dry lab’ biological scientist and ‘Jack of all trades’ and I currently work in a number of areas for a small biotech company, developing diagnostic markers for various diseases, including tuberculosis and breast cancer.

Since my days as an undergrad, I have also performed regularly as a singer in and around London and Cambridge – I’ve been singing for as long as I can remember and I have met and learned from some amazingly talented musicians over the years. I love living and working in Cambridge as it’s an excellent centre for both the Sciences and the Arts, although I would like to see more invested in the Arts. The educational, creative and therapeutic benefits of the Arts to the community (all ages and backgrounds) are enormous and the scientific evidence for this is overwhelming!

More recently, I co-founded the Cambridge Jazz Festival in 2014 to help celebrate improvisation and the huge variety of music that jazz encompasses and to bring all the disconnected groups of jazz musicians from various organisations and institutions together. The festival also aims to bring international and national musicians to Cambridge while showcasing local and emerging artists alongside them. We also champion new artists, especially women instrumentalists, and provide talks and workshops led by world-class musicians for all ages and abilities.

2.  What is your fondest memory at Anglia Ruskin University?

My class was the first year to do the part-time Masters in Computer Science and it was great to meet fellow students from all ages and different backgrounds, with many wanting a career change or just wanting to keep up with the huge advances in technology at the time.  

Overall I was particularly fond of all the people I met during this time. We could all see how creative we could be with what we were learning on the course and how it could be applied to each of our different backgrounds – we also learnt a lot from each other.

3.  What advice would you give to current students as they're preparing to graduate? 

Don’t panic and always seek advice from your tutors – they are there for you and they want to help you.

4.  What do you know now that you wish you had known whilst you were studying?

I have studied many different areas, in many different institutions and I feel that I never made the most of one area while I was studying. It’s impossible to cram all this knowledge in and be a master of them all, but over the years I have learnt that there are huge benefits to having a certain level of knowledge across different areas and you tend to learn a lot more on the job and when you need to apply knowledge to a particular problem. As a ‘Jack of all trades’, it’s easier to see a ‘bigger picture’ and it’s more fun as you can be a lot more creative in how you can solve problems.

5.  How did your time at Anglia Ruskin help you?

At the time I didn’t really know what I wanted to do in life, but I couldn’t afford to take time off work to study - I had already done two degrees and I was skint! I didn’t want to be the eternal student with no money but I knew I had to learn a new skill as it would open up new possibilities and it was an exciting area that I was very much interested in.

I was able to do the course part-time at Anglia in the evenings and more importantly it meant that I did not need to give up my job. The tutors were also always available for help and advice, even in the evenings – they were amazing!

6.  What did you love about your chosen course?

I wanted to learn more about bioinformatics and computational biology, essentially how to analyse biological data. However, at the time there was only one course available and it was in Manchester. I really didn’t want to move city and I felt a conversion course in Computer Science at Anglia Ruskin would be a good compromise. The course gave me a great overview of what computer science is and the different areas one could explore further and it allowed me to combine new computing skills and knowledge with real biological data for my final Master's project. It even provided me with some research leads for my PhD project!

7.  What would you tell someone thinking of studying at Anglia?

Go for it - it’s welcoming, friendly, helpful and very much open to all ages and backgrounds. It’s also in Cambridge, an excellent multicultural and creative hub for both science and the arts – there is so much going on here: in the community, academia and in industry.

8.  In one word how would you describe Anglia?


9.  Who was the biggest influence on your career?

My husband, also a scientist - I owe a lot to him! We have been together for almost twenty years and he has been there for me always, while I was making big career decisions, in bringing up two beautiful children with me and in generally supporting me on everything I do. I would not have been able to juggle being a mum, scientist, music promoter and musician without him!

10. What accomplishment are you most proud of?

Having worked at some of the best research institutions in the world with some of the most amazing and inspiring scientists on projects resulting in a string of ground-breaking publications in top journals. I feel quite humbled to have worked with many of my colleagues, they have been incredible mentors over the years and I have learnt a lot from them. This has helped me to develop as a scientist and it’s provided new and exciting opportunities in my career.

I am also very proud of the Cambridge Jazz Festival, the first one was last year with 46 events and 240 musicians - it was a huge success with half the events either sold out or at full capacity! It was so rewarding to see how well-attended it was and how it has also inspired so many people of all ages, both kids and adults. Many of those who attended the big band workshops (ages 15 to 82!) have since joined a community big band and most of those who joined the London Vocal Project workshop are now singing in a newly established community jazz choir.

11. What advice would you give your younger self?

Don’t be afraid of new possibilities, be open and receptive to everything and don’t give up – where there’s a will there’s a way. But also, don’t give up your hobbies and other things in life that you enjoy – it’s important to find the right balance and it could be a life-saver – music certainly has been for me!

12. What drives you?

I really enjoy working on projects that could potentially change a whole community or even the world at large for the better, whether it’s in finding opportunities for people of all ages to learn, enjoy and be inspired by music, or in finding an early diagnostic test for cancer or tuberculosis, all these projects can make a huge positive difference in people’s lives and this is what drives me.

13. What’s next?

I would love to set up my own biotech company and I would also like to see the Cambridge Jazz Festival grow and develop into a festival that Cambridge can be really proud of. You can find more information about the festival here: http://www.cambridgejazzfestival.org.uk