Marie Polley

Senior Lecturer, Department of Life Sciences

Marie Polley

Could you please describe yourself in a few sentences?

My name is Dr Marie Polley. I have an unusual mix of qualifications, from a BSc Honours in Biomedical Sciences, a PhD in Molecular Carcinogenesis, and I am a Reiki Master. So I am interested in the body – what happens when it works well, what goes wrong when we become ill, and how can we restore our health - using a range and/or combination of evidence informed health paradigms – not just prescription drugs.

What is your area of academic interest and which courses are you involved in?

These days I am most interested in integrative medicine, and specifically integrative oncology – this is where you combine the best evidence from biomedicine, psychology, immunology, endocrinology, epidemiology, epigenetics and so forth, to make a complete package of treatment for a person who has cancer, or who is recovering from cancer – it’s a relatively new area, particularly for the UK, although Integrative Medicine is recognised in the US now as a specialist division of medicine.

At the University of Westminster I teach on Physiology and Anatomy at Foundation level and Level 4; I teach on research methods at level 5, I run the dissertation module for Herbal and East Asian Medicine at Level 6; teach and supervise Professional Doctorate students and PhD students. As a lot of the modules I teach on are core modules, I tend to see students over several courses in the Faculty.

What was your first job? What did you learn from it?

My first ever job (aged 14) was working in a shop printing bespoke T-shirts and selling socks and tights. I learnt that getting paid gave me autonomy and that I didn’t want to do shop work for the rest of my life. I was a sales rep for Wrigleys (yes, the chewing gum people) while I was at University doing my Undergraduate studies. I learnt I was good at engaging people and at sales, that sales paid well and I now know oh so much about chewing gum! But my first academic based job was as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Imperial College, in the Department of Cancer Cell Biology, over at Hammersmith Hospital. This was a high profile, well resourced, fast-paced department with lots of highly intelligent researchers and big pieces of sophisticated equipment. I learnt that I was very independent and capable at my job, learnt lots of lab techniques but importantly realised that I wouldn’t be really happy until I knew my research was definitely having a positive impact on people with cancer.

What did you do in your career before coming to University of Westminster?

After leaving Imperial College, I took a side-step from academia and joined the charity sector. I worked for Breast Cancer Haven as a research fellow, and was asked to evaluate the support provided to their clients with Breast Cancer. This was a project that I developed from scratch and it was important to capture the positive experience that the people with cancer were having at the charity, and to do this in a scientifically acceptable way. We published two papers of this research, this allowed the charity to gain status, gain funding and continue to support people with breast cancer, in a way that is not provided on the NHS yet.

What advice would you give to the students during their studies and after graduation so that they make the right decisions for their career?

Studying is a lot more than paying your money and attending a lecture. I would advise that you are realistic about the time needed to read for a degree – at least two hours of reading around and study, per hour of lecture. The other bit of advice is to ask questions – this might be by talking to a lecturer, by posing a question on a forum on Blackboard or by asking other students. Learning is about enquiry and the more you ask, the more you find out. Making the right decisions about your career is a tricky one – you need to stick with what you truly love doing, as life is too short to do something that you don’t want to do. This may not be the first job you get, and your goals will change as you do different jobs – but have an aim or a goal to work towards.


If you were asked to give one piece of advice to students who are considering going into postgraduate study what would that be?

Well, Postgraduate is a big step up from Undergraduate study, so examine your motivations for doing more study – the higher up the qualification ladder you climb, the more you will rely on your personal desire and enthusiasm for that area of study, to help you when the workload is full on. That said, never pass an opportunity by to fulfil your potential. If you think you can go further – then do.

How do you relax out of work? What are your interests/leisure activities?

Ha ha, relax? I have two small children, so the concept of relaxing outside of work has a whole new meaning these days. Pre-kids, then I would have said surfing some big fat green waves, somewhere in the world that is hot and with good breaks. These days, I am a volunteer youth worker for my church so I run evening youth groups to provide a safe environment for older kids to hangout and let off steam. When I get time I play the piano.


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