Hoyin Lam
Cancer Researcher

Show transcript


Researchers like us are actually pretty decent cooks. [laugh]

My name is Hoyin Lam, I am a PhD student here in the Cancer Division doing cancer research, on specifically, Pancreatic Cancer.

I wanted to be a Cancer Researcher because I was always interested in the human body, how people get sick, and more particularly why people get cancer and how after so many years we still haven’t really solved the problem.

On a day-to-day basis, I mainly work on keeping my cells alive so we can use them for various experiments, preparing reagents, extraction of certain proteins for further investigation, but also at the same time documenting my work, processing the results, basically analysing what I have found and making presentations.

Obviously, we hope to find novel drugs therapies to treat cancer patients, hopefully to help extend their lives, and the ultimate finding would be how we can kill off the cancer and keep people happy.

Also very important is to be able to get early diagnosis, so we are also trying to find what we call ‘identification markers’ or ‘biomarkers’ to detect cancer in early stages so we can treat that earlier.

I thought sitting 9 to 5 behind a desk in an office would be a bit too boring for me, and in the past I really liked to do chemistry work, so I think in this kind of job I found a good combination between practical hands-on work in a field that I’m interested in. We need to be able to motivate ourselves, be very open to new ideas, keep an open mind, you have to have good time management and how to plan your work to be effective, and a little bit stress-resistant.

If I could do any job in the world I would probably like to be an owner of a company with medical devices, wearable gadgets that measure your health and share this information online so you can track your own health but also exchange the information with health professionals.

I guess my main tip would be: if you’re interested, start early, enquire about possible opportunities from your teachers or any professors, and try to apply for any summer schools that are available or internships and that will really help you a lot on your way.

The coolest thing would be actually when I was in Sweden, and I was able to contribute to an article that was published in a scientific journal, and I think that was probably one of the coolest moments in my career so far.

A few words from Hoyin ...

Every day I work as a cancer researcher, spending most of my time in the laboratory. We take care of the cancer cells in flasks, plates or dishes for any upcoming experiments. Depending on the experiment, various preparations are needed before we can do the actual experiment, such as: ordering materials, preparing reagents and optimizing the method. We also have to coordinate with other lab members or collaborators to manage and update our work and results. Besides doing work in the lab, my position also includes other tasks such as giving presentations, writing reports about our findings and providing training and guidance to students. My current project is to find out why cancer patients get sick and what goes wrong in their cells. I am particularly interested in how cancer cells get from one place to another place (metastasis) through interactions with other cells in the cancer environment, and to find a way to stop and kill them.

Exciting aspects of Hoyin's job

In this position, you will encounter many different problems and difficulties to solve and to bypass, which can be very challenging and allows you to be creative and practical at the same time.

Also, you will do work that might contribute to saving other people’s lives, making a difference to patients. It is like working on the process on being a life saver, a true hero for the society!

You get the opportunity to ask interesting questions regarding diseases or cellular processes. A lot of cellular processes can be visualised with exciting microscopical techniques, like fluorescence microscopy, that would be impossible to see with the naked eye. In addition, you might discover new functions of proteins, genes or even cell populations that could lead to the development of new treatment for patients!

You are almost in charge of your own work: you often decide what you want to investigate, how you would like to do that and why, as long as it is in the same interest as the investigating group you belong to. Also, you can decide when you would like to plan your experiment; the job is very flexible as long as you deliver the findings and data to the principal investigator when needed.

Last but not least, you are able to publish your interesting findings in various journals, travel to exciting conferences around the world and show it to everyone else!


Certain problems can be frustrating. Experiments might not work out very often, even though you did everything correct!

Patience is quite essential, as rushing your work or doing it half heartedly will often put you back to square one.

All these problems, lack of patience and deadlines could put you under pressure and stress, which eventually could lead to loss of motivation. In my role, we have to learn how to keep ourselves motivated and become more resilient to stress in order to do our work properly.

Grades needed
  • Undergraduate degree in life science
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