Dr Edwin Chen

Job title
University Academic Fellow in Cancer Biology

I was born in Taiwan but my family moved to just outside of Toronto, Canada in the early 1980s. I attended university in Canada, first at McGill University for my undergraduate degree and the University of Toronto for my PhD. Following this I completed postdoctoral stints at the University of Cambridge and Harvard University, before establishing my research group in the Faculty of Biological Sciences at Leeds in 2015.

Throughout my research career, I have been interested in the molecular processes that govern how blood stem cells turn into leukaemia cells and how we can translate these insights into the development of new cancer drugs, topics which remain the focus of our lab in Leeds to this day.

I was fortunate enough to be a part of cohort 1 of the University Academic Fellow scheme in 2015, which was a really exciting time as there was great energy and excitement surrounding the scheme within our faculty and across the university. The support and welcome I received after I accepted the offer was amazing.

I still remember sitting at my desk in Boston and receiving an email from the dean of our faculty to personally welcome me to Leeds and to let me know that his door would always be open for advice and guidance, at a time that he acknowledged, was a critical juncture in our careers during our transition to independence. 

That summer, the department invited us to the faculty away day, something which was definitely not a trivial matter when it came to me and my trans-Atlantic travelling. But I think it showed how eager and serious everyone was to welcome us into the Leeds family and to try to ensure our eventual success. That support only continued during the eventual relocation, and support was always on hand from the faculty, both financially and in terms of advice, to get us settled in Leeds. 

When I did start in my post, the support with regards to my professional development has been really instrumental for me. I was assigned a mentor from a senior academic within the department, who really helped me, not only in those first few months, but over the last 3 years. Everything from looking over my grant applications, helping me navigate the complicated rules and regulations of the UK funding bodies and to help me understand broadly how things work in a UK-based institute of higher education.

There are definitely differences between how universities work in the UK and North America, and I was lucky that there was someone whom I could talk to about this and ask my stupid questions! Due to the support I received, I was able to secure multiple streams of research funding in my first 3 years which allowed me to hire the strong support staff and students to establish a thriving and productive research group. 

The way I always describe Leeds to my North American colleagues is as a “big city that feels like a small city”. I have always been impressed by the vibrancy and energy of Leeds and the city centre, and yet the city is still very accessible and friendly with a small-town feel. As a North American who doesn’t drive in the UK yet (one day maybe I’ll feel comfortable driving on the left), that accessibility and being able to explore Leeds has been important to allow me to feel comfortable in Leeds very quickly. 

The ambition embodied in the University Academic Fellow scheme has always been impressive to me, and there is a real sense that Leeds is trying to build something long-term and I am really excited to be a part of it. For example, our faculty is currently in the midst of a huge refurbishment project in which the lab space in the faculty will be modernised into an open lab concept, an approach which I have worked in throughout many institutes in the US (such as at the Broad Institute and at Harvard Medical School) and which I have seen can really enable some exciting cross-disciplinary science.

I am also very excited by the new investment in the Nexus building and the possibility to develop some of our research insights into therapies, which I think is ultimately the goal that many of us doing research in cancer hope to eventually move into. I think these examples really highlight that Leeds is planning big things in the future, and I hope to be able to contribute to this.