“It’s OK to Be A Bit Creative and Entrepreneurial” – Anna Middleton
Welcome to The Short Read, our weekly peek behind the curtain at the people who make this amazing community tick. Make sure to check back every Tuesday for the latest installment.
Anna Middleton, Head of Society and Ethics at the Wellcome Genome Campus, is involved in some of the most fascinating social science research of the moment, examining the impact of genomics upon patients and the wider public. Earlier this year she launched Socialising the Genome, a video project aimed at making genomics a more social concept, developing narratives and themes that can open up this complex, somewhat arcane field to wider public understanding. Many of us would struggle to describe genomics without using the word ‘genome’, and a key feature of Anna’s work is breaking down that jargon to make the field accessible.
What are you working on right now?
I’m exploring how the public feel about genomic data sharing, for Global Alliance for Genomics and Health. Our survey (www.yourdnayoursay.org) is getting a massive amount of interest across the world. We explain what data sharing is through a series of films and are very excited that these films have been selected for showing at film festivals in Los Angeles and Bergen in Norway. The survey and films have been translated into polish, French and Russian. With other languages on their way. This is going to be a truly global study of what people think about donating their genomic and medical data for use by others.
Anna will be speaking at the Festival of Genomics London 2018 about the results of ‘Your DNA, Your Say’, the largest psychological study of public attitudes towards genomics.
What’s the biggest challenge you face in your work at the moment?
There is such an urgent and clear need to document and understand the impact of genomics on patients, public and society, and our group is massively in demand. However, a challenge is finding funding and support to grow quickly enough to meet this demand.
Name one big development that you would like to see in your field the next 18 months.
Healthcare professions need support to free them up for training in genomics now. There are courses out there to help them, but many health professionals don’t yet know what they need to know. The lack of knowledge about genomics amongst mainstream healthcare professions still astounds me. It’s not reasonable to expect and accept people taking annual leave to study. They should be allowed space and funding to access training to bring them up to speed with genomics; this should not be seen as a luxury but as a necessity.
What are you most proud of in your career?
Being an advocate for genetic counsellors; representing genetic counselling and doing my best to socialise genomics for patients.
Which scientists, living, dead, or fictional, would you invite to dinner, and why?
Rosalind Franklin. She was such a pivotal character in the discovery of DNA and was apparently quite a formidable character, I’d love to hear her perspective of working in a man’s world as a pioneer.
What advice do you wish someone had given you at the start of your career?
I have absolutely loved every aspect of my career. I seek out exciting opportunities and always look to add value in some way. I wish someone had told me earlier in my career that it was ok to be a bit creative and entrepreneurial, I might have got to where I am now abut quicker, if they had!
I’ve just been made Head of Society and Ethics at the Wellcome Genome Campus, so I’m extremely honoured but also really excited to get going – what motivates me is understanding and documenting what Genomics means for patients and the public. I want to feed the patient voice into policy that matters.
To hear from Anna in January in London, register for free here!