Case study

Research is key: never lose sight of your goals

Yusra Siddiqui’s research journey has been nothing short of inspiring. From growing up in Dubai aspiring to be an army doctor in Pakistan to completing her PhD in cancer research – inspired by her mother, a cancer survivor – to establishing her own company through the Covid-19 pandemic. And now she is teaching our Biomedical Science students while continuing her research.

A supportive family

Yusra’s parents always encouraged her to study, excel and achieve her dreams. She became the first member of her family to go to university, studying Zoology, Botany and Chemistry at the University of Punjab in Lahore. 

After completing her undergraduate degree, Yusra went on to do a Masters and an MPhil in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. She moved to the UK shortly after this, completing her PhD in Biochemistry at the University of Bristol in 2015. Out of everything in her research career so far, Yusra is most proud of her PhD – not least because of the personal perspective. 

She says: “My research interests have been in understanding the spread of cancer, and how to stop this, at the molecular level. I have been mainly working with prostate and breast cancer, but also briefly focused on melanoma during my first post-doc.” 

Building a career

That first post-doctoral position was at the Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. She then moved to Poland when her husband secured his own post-doctoral position there and she took up a role as Research Technician at the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology in Warsaw.  

The family returned to Pakistan – now with two children – and Yusra had her first higher education teaching experience in 2019 in the Department of Biotechnology as a Lecturer. She led the module in Analytical Chemistry and Instrumentation. 

Dr Yusra Siddiqui standing in a science lab

As a module leader and researcher, I aspired for my students to write research papers, and a team of six undergrad students under my supervision published their own papers in latest areas of research.

Dr Yusra Siddiqui
Lecturer in Biomedical Sciences

Yusra and her family moved back to the UK in August 2019 and, after her first experience as a lecturer, she knew where she wanted her career to go. However, the Covid-19 pandemic put a halt to her search for a job in higher education. But she had, in the meantime, built up experience as a tutor for students from GCSE up to postgraduate level and this inspired her to set up her own online tutoring company, SS Tutor, with her sister. The company is still going strong.

A place at Derby

Yusra secured a position as an Early Career Academic (ECA) in Biomedical Sciences at the University of Derby in August 2021. With this, she developed her research profile in 'understanding the molecular events underlying prostate cancer progression'. She collaborated internally and externally with various groups, to help develop her proposal.  

During her time as an ECA, Yusra received help from the University through a Personal Development Fund (PDF) and also secured start-up funding from the Sustaining University Research Expertise (SURE) fund. She is using this to establish pilot data in the lab, with a good network of external collaborators, to promote further opportunities for her research. 

In May 2022, Yusra was promoted to Lecturer in Biomedical Science. 

She says: “I have always done research-informed teaching, and the students love the practical experience of things. From taking my students to visit and see state-of-the-art instruments in research centres that they were theoretically learning about, to designing problem-based practical sessions, I have always tried to give a researcher's experience to students. The students love this and enjoy it, most understand concepts better, and it makes them more aware of such situations.” 

In August 2022, Yusra was also awarded a Fellowship from the Higher Education Academy (FHEA) due to her claim on research-informed teaching. 

A prostate cancer researcher 

Yusra’s research interests lie in understanding the molecular events underlying prostate cancer progression. Her major current research looks at the link of prostate cancer progression to risk factors such as sexually transmitted infections (STIs), especially the human papillomavirus (HPV), the most common STI.  

In June 2022, Yusra presented her project plan on ‘Investigating how human papillomaviruses (HPVs) affect prostate cancer progression’ at a European Association for Cancer Research Conference in Spain. Here, she met a lot of other cancer researchers and industrial sponsors who supported her with ideas on how to proceed with her project. 

With the project still at initial stages, Yusra can only guess at its impact. However, she says: “It would directly feed into the gender-neutral vaccination programme.” 

Through a long journey across the world, Yusra always had sight and the ambition to become a researcher. Now she has achieved this, her aspirations and goals are only growing stronger, from wanting to establish her own research lab to gaining external clinical collaborations. 

Cultural sensitivity and inclusive education

Beyond her own biomedical research, Yusra has been collaborating with Professor Ian Turner, Professor in Learning and Teaching, on ‘Working towards a culturally sensitive curriculum’. This work is based on understanding any changes in perceptions students may have when an attempt is made to decolonise their curriculum. Decolonising means looking beyond Western framing and examining how imperialism, colonialism and power have influenced the narrative. 

Yusra explains: “Decolonising the curriculum entails providing the platforms and tools necessary for a dialogue among all university personnel about how to imagine and incorporate all knowledge systems, including cultural ones, into the course material as well as how the material is taught and how it frames the world.” 

Yusra is also keen on introducing digital interventions in her teaching practice and is working on introducing inclusive assessment design in BioScience Education. As a module leader for foundation-level students, she is also researching in addressing the awarding gap issue and working towards improving student performance.

Dr Yusra Siddiqui standing in a science lab

Dr Yusra Siddiqui
Lecturer, BioMedical Sciences

As an Early Career Academic, Dr Siddiqui is developing herself as an independent researcher in understanding molecular events in prostate cancer progression. She is also an HE lecturer with international experience in a wide array of biomedical modules.

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