Lee Moir – Metabolic Phenotyping Manager

Lee Moir

What is your role at MRC Harwell? How long have you worked here?

I am the Metabolic Phenotyping Manager and started 6th Jan 2020 – 9 weeks before the pandemic hit! It’s a varied role – I line manage a team of two in the clinical pathology laboratory, overseeing the work that they undertake, and advise/help internal and external researchers. I also oversee all things metabolic that go on within the Mary Lyon Centre, particularly the indirect calorimetry kit as nobody likes it when it breaks! I am also the lead trainer for the Practical Lab Skills course in Advance.

What is your career/education background?

I’m a local Didcot girl and went to Didcot Girls’ School, so I happened to do work experience at MRC Harwell, with time in both the Histology Department and the animal facility! After my A Levels, I worked for Halfords in the parts department and then as an administrator before starting as an Animal Technician here at MRC Harwell, back in 1996. Whilst working as a technician I did day release to City of Westminster College in London and did an ONC (Ordinary National Certificate) and HNC (Higher National Certificate) in Science (Animal Technology).

In 2001, I became a Research Assistant for Professor Roger Cox in his Type 2 Diabetes and Obesity research group in the Mammalian Genetics Unit at MRC Harwell. He told me I needed a degree for the role, so that September I started a part-time degree at Oxford Brookes University in Cell and Molecular Biology. The MRC and Roger were great letting me go one day a week and I graduated in 2006 with a first class honours degree.

In 2009 I must have been bored or a glutton for punishment and started a part-time PhD in Roger’s group with the Open University. I successfully defended my thesis entitled “Identification of Genes Involved in Type 2 Diabetes and Obesity Using the Mouse as a Model” in 2015.

I left Harwell in 2016 to work as a postdoctoral research assistant in the lab of Prof Dame Kay Davies at the University of Oxford where we were investigating utrophin modulation to develop a therapy for Duchenne muscular dystrophy, before coming back here in 2020.

Did you see yourself doing this kind of job when you were younger?

Looking back to my work experience here, I’m sure I wouldn’t have expected to be here all these years later! Back then, the main things I knew about what I wanted to do were that I enjoyed biology and didn’t want to work in a bank like my parents. I also knew that I wanted to get a degree, but that I didn’t want to go to university full-time – I wanted to do it on the job and was very grateful to get the support here to do that! I don’t think I really saw beyond getting a degree, but doing the work experience here was a great opportunity to see the kinds of opportunities that are available and get a feel for the working environment of a place like this. It can be really hard when you’re that age to know what you want to do, or what jobs there are out there, outside of what you directly see family members doing, so the work experience gave a useful insight.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

One of the things that I enjoy most about my job is the diversity in the tasks I’m doing on a day-to-day basis, from sharing advice with researchers to hands-on work in the lab with metabolic kits or managing my team. I also love that there are always new exciting challenges and problems to solve and, with our collaborations and projects like the National Mouse Genetics Network, I get to work on exciting projects with some of the best scientists in the country!

I’ve also really appreciated the support I’ve been given in getting my degrees and as a parent.

How has your role changed?

Obviously it’s changed a lot since my first job here as an Animal Technician, particularly as I’m now managing my own team and taking advantage of the skills I gained in previous positions over the years. It’s also changed a fair bit just since starting my current role, as COVID and team changes have forced us to be adaptable over the last couple of years!

What advice do you give to new colleagues starting in junior roles?

It’s important to me to be supportive to new colleagues in junior roles and help them in their personal development, as they gain skills that benefit our team and can also be useful for them going forward. One of the main things I tell them is to think about what will benefit them and what they want to do, so that they can take the relevant opportunities that are open to them and network in ways that will help drive their careers forwards.

What are the skills you have gained during your career that have made the biggest impact?

Obviously there are technical skills, such as my expertise in metabolic research and the molecular biology lab skills that I could transfer to a different area of research when I went to Oxford and again when I came back to Harwell. But there are also soft skills gained through experience, such as the time management required to balance parenting and work responsibilities and communication skills that I like to use to pass on knowledge and experience to colleagues as the main lead on our Practical Laboratory Skills course at Advance.

Are you professionally registered? Would you recommend others to do it?

Yes, I am a Registered Scientist and upgrading to Chartered Scientist is on my to-do list! I would certainly recommend that others get professionally registered as a recognition of their achievements and skills both as a benefit for their CV and for their sense of themselves.

What do you like to do outside of work?

Most of my time outside of work seems to be taken up with family responsibilities and certainly a lot of time entertaining a nearly 6 year old, but when I do get some free time for myself, I really enjoy going to see live music and am currently looking forward to a Foo Fighters tribute concert that I’ll be going to with one of my colleagues!

This interview was completed in the summer of 2022. Lee has since left MRC Harwell. We caught up to see where her career took her next.

I left at the end of January 2023 and took up a position as a Postdoctoral Research Scientist in the Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics at University of Oxford. Advising research scientists on their experiments made me realise how much I missed performing them myself! I am researching  utrophin modulators for the treatment of Duchenne muscular dystrophy in the research groups of Professor Angela Russell and Professor Dame Kay Davies.

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