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Professor Kathryn Mitchell delivers lecture on her academic career

Professor Kathryn Mitchell, who is the University of West London's Pro Vice-Chancellor (Academic and Student Services) has delivered the latest in the University's Professorial Lecture Series. 

Professor Mitchell's inspiring lecture, entitled 'The Magic of Discovery' focused on her personal academic journey.  Talking to a lecture theatre full of students, fellow academics, staff and guests, Professor Mitchell begun her story as an Undergraduate at York University, training as a nurse.  She spent the summer at the Tumu Tumu hospital in Karatina, Kenya where she nursed people living with AIDS.  It was this experience that made her decide she wanted to carry out research.  After returning to York for her final year, Professor Mitchell sought funding for a PhD. 

PhD funding secured, Professor Mitchell was honoured to become a Wellcome Fellow at the Institute of Psychiatry in London and have Professor Jeffrey Gray who was an eminent psychologist at Kings College London as her supervisor.  With him and his team she studied stem cells and neurogenerative disease.  As Professor Mitchell herself pointed out in her lecture, she was no biologist, and so her PhD required a lot of extra study into this new discipline.  However, she was proud to report that the team was the first in the world to demonstrate manipulation of neuroblastoma cells for transplantation.

Taking the shortest break ever from her studies, Professor Mitchell got married just two days after her PhD Viva!  Almost immediately she travelled to the University of Chicago to work with Professor Bruce Wainer and take part in his pioneering work to immortalise brain cells.  Chicago was a dangerous place at that time and Professor Mitchell often had the necessity of a police escort home after long hours in the lab.  After her stint in Chicago, Professor Mitchell remained in North America and went to work with Dr Paul Greengard at the Rockefeller Institute in New York.  Dr Greengard was subsequently awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, in 2000.  Taking her previous research on human cell lines, Professor Mitchell started to apply this to how people teach and learn; research that continues to inform her work today.  Professor Mitchell's time spent working and researching abroad finished with a period working on molecular biology in Switzerland, which was not a happy or satisfactory time as this research was not about people.

This was the point in her career when Professor Mitchell arrived at the University of West London's School of Psychological Services. At the same time she was an Honorary Fellow at University College London and worked with Professor Stanton Newman, Clinical and Health Psychologist, where they developed interventions to encourage behaviour change among patients living with chronic disease.  Professor Mitchell's specific project was about self-monitoring in rheumatoid arthritis.

Professor Mitchell finished her lecture with recognition of the many PhD students she has supervised over the past few years, and how pleased she was to receive a 6am phone call from one of them, excitedly telling her about an academic breakthrough they had experienced within their studies!  Finally, Professor Mitchell appealed to all students to 'be scholarly', to attend lectures, to let their studies become all-important.  She said:  "Being an academic is not asking 'what time shall I go home?' but instead asking ' have I finished my work?'.