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An unconventional journey - beginning a research career later in life


Paul Eve, a Senior Scientific Officer in Cancer Therapeutics, was 41 when he started his first science job, having previously worked as a chef and a scaffolder. He tells us more about his career, and why he thinks his varied jobs have added to his work.

Posted on 10 January, 2022 by Paul Eve

Five scientists - including Paul Eve - dressed in white coats in a laboratory

Image: Paul Eve (far right), with colleagues from the Target Evaluation & Molecular Therapeutics Team, including Dr Olivia Rossanese (centre).

“When I went to school everyone sat the 11-Plus, and you could go to secondary school or grammar school. I did pass my 11-Plus exams and managed to get into Eastbourne Grammar School. However, a year later we moved house and I opted to go to the local secondary school,” Paul said.

“Science didn’t really interest me at that point, and I sat a few O-levels and got English, Maths and History but I was more interested in girls than education.

“I did really enjoy cooking though and I was the first boy at that school to pass the subject at O-level, so I went to catering college for a year before I left to work at a local restaurant.”

Paul Eve and restaurant colleagues

Image: Paul (far left) with restaurant colleagues.

Paul then worked at a popular French restaurant in Brighton called L’Escargot and became head chef there when he was 19.

But a few years later he left catering, wanting a better-paid, more nine to five job, and became a self-employed scaffolder for six years.

“By this stage I was 27-years old,” he said, “and a friend of mine from school who had gone to University was on to me. He kept telling me I needed to get an education, ‘read this book read that’. I did start to read a lot of material. I couldn't afford to go to university but I could do an Open University course.

“I did half an Open University degree in sociology and psychology and then I really struggled with the distance learning, so I stopped.”

Paul’s next job was “absolutely awful”, he said, working as a salesman for an office equipment company for two years.

A new direction

The turning point for Paul came when he began working in elderly care and started to wonder about disease and the illnesses he saw in some of the older people he was caring for.

“My partner Emma was really supportive, and I booked on to an access course at Lewes Tertiary College. The beauty of this course is that rather than doing A-levels you could do a one-year access course and from then go on to university.

“My first module was cell biology, because I just wanted to put my toe in the water to see if I enjoyed it. After the first week I totally loved it and had finally found what I wanted to do.

“I wanted to be working in something that was cutting edge and exciting. And with an endless pursuit because they'll always be something to look at. There will always be new technologies to use and new ideas coming up.”

After completing the access course Paul was able to sign up for a four-year degree course in genetics at Sussex University. This included a year out in industry and training in CV writing and interview technique.

Paul was awarded a first-class degree by Sussex University and then started to look for work.

Arriving at the ICR

“I couldn't do a PhD because I’d already spent four years and quite a lot of money trying to get myself educated,” he said. “Therefore, I decided to apply for scientific officer technician posts. I succeeded in getting a post in Professor Richard Houlston’s Genetics group at the ICR in 2002.”

After 18 months Paul moved to the Cancer Therapeutics Unit at the ICR with Dr Michelle Garrett, and now Dr Olivia Rossanese.

“During my time at the ICR I have managed to work myself up to a Senior Scientific Officer grade,” he said, “I got to the top of where I wanted to get to on the technical scale.

“I’ve worked on a lot of different cancer drug projects, some have been very successful like AKT and CHK1. Both of those projects are now clinical candidates that are being worked on at the moment. Some of the other drug projects I have worked on never quite made it that far. I’ve certainly worked on quite a varied number of projects and I still enjoy coming to work every day! But it is also nice to relax with my family – my wife Emma and children Maya and Isla."

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Recipe for success

“Sometimes I look back on my career and I think, gosh I could have moved into science years ago. But then would I still have the same enthusiasm for it? I don't know. And I do think that other experiences bring different things to bear on the research process.

“For example, my catering experience – you have to follow a recipe and you have to follow it pretty stringently, to get the desired end result, which is very much like working in a laboratory.

“For a lot of people their journey into science is a tried and tested route of school, university, PhD into a lab, couple of postdocs.

“I have had a number of very different jobs that I feel have all added something to me as a person and my approach to science. Though I do sometimes wish that I had taken the tried and tested route earlier in life, I am not sure if I could have achieved it then.

“On the whole I am very happy with the choices I made, and it is a constant source of amazement to me that I am actually working in an internationally renowned cancer research institute. Even though I am getting towards retirement age I still love the buzz of the lab work and the intellectual rigour that this work entails.”

Find out more about working at the ICR.

Careers at the ICR


Richard Houlston careers Olivia Rossanese cancer therapeutics science careers
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