This summer, we invited cancer researchers at all levels to write a blog post for the second EACR Science Communication Prize around the theme “My Science Success Story”. Like the previous award in 2018, researchers from around the world sent in a great number of high quality original entries.

Today, we are delighted to announce that Camille Hurley is the winner of the EACR Science Communication Prize 2021 for her blog post, “From Breakdown to Breakthrough: My Success Story”. In her congratulatory message to Camille, EACR President Caroline Dive commented, “This is a great achievement, especially considering how strong the field of articles were. Your article encapsulates what success in science means to you, and holds a message that many other scientists at all stages of their careers can echo!”

Today is also World Cancer Research Day. This year’s theme is ‘Cancer Research Works: Driving Progress Together’, and we believed collecting stories from our members and their personal science success stories was fitting for the theme. You can read more about World Cancer Research Day and how the EACR is involved here.

You can read Camille’s winning entry below, and we will also publish our shortlisted entries over the next few weeks.

From Breakdown to Breakthrough: My Success Story

Camille HurleyMy name is Camille Hurley and I am a final year PhD student based in the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. It’s a windy Tuesday in February 2021 and I’m writing this blog post from my desk in my bedroom, which is half a foot from my bed. It could be worse – I have a nice view out the window and at least I don’t have to work from the actual bed! Earlier this month, I won the prize for the best talk at the British Association for Cancer Research (BACR) Student Conference. Here I am going to share why that is my Science Success Story and why it has become more than just a part of my CV.

By total coincidence, about a month before the world began to shut down in March 2020, I was also shutting down. I was in the 3rd year of my PhD, living in and working between Dublin and Paris, a few months here and a few months there. My time in France was brilliant – living in a lively city, doing my research with the experts in the field, working in a very welcoming lab, speaking another language. But at the same time, trying to live a double life at 1000%, both personally and professionally, had lead me to a burn-out and I didn’t even realise (as if the crying, constant anxiety, and inability to make simple decisions weren’t obvious enough indicators). I was advised to take a rest in my family home, but really, a serious rest.

Camille Hurley
Just a few of many flowers and plants in my garden!

The year that followed has been my time to, very very slowly, learn and gather tools that are enabling me to take care of myself and complete my PhD without driving myself to breaking point again. If anyone is wondering, my favourites are being kind to myself, stop saying “I should”, gardening, meditating, podcasts, the list goes on… Having a truly supportive network of fellow PhD student best friends has been vital. There also just so happened to be a pandemic too, so the increased compassion, understanding, and conversation about minding ourselves and our mental health has also been quite important for my recovery this past year.

That being said, as I’ve been mostly working from home for the past 6 months doing analysis rather than lab work, the October and November lockdown in the shortening days was very tough. I really nearly didn’t even manage to get my abstract in for the BACR conference. I was kind of hiding and had been working in a very isolated way, it was my first conference in over a year, and I had only ever submitted an abstract for a poster before. Of course, all these factors really didn’t help my imposter syndrome. So that’s why I can’t emphasize enough the positive impact that the opportunity to present my work has had on me.

Camille Hurley
Camille presenting at the BACR Student Conference

I know to many people it might not seem like such a big deal (or maybe it is a big deal to all of us but we don’t talk about it!), or just a normal part of the PhD. But for me, it has honestly been a turning point. I can see my progress in my research and I feel more like I am part of the scientific community. I no longer feel like I don’t belong here. It was also fantastic to hear the talks of other PhD students, not only to reassure me that I’m one of them but to hear some great science and gain an insight into other people’s research in a way that wasn’t overwhelming.

As well as this, following being accepted to speak at this conference, I also presented for the first time at our department Christmas review, and gave a live webinar with an international software company. So the positive domino affect has honestly been fantastic, given me a wonderful boost at this hard time, and changed my perspective for the better. This is compared to exactly one year ago when the “P” word couldn’t even be mentioned.

Camille Hurley
Just before the live webinar with the international software company!

So my message to you is not to let fear stop you. There is no need to hide. Even when you feel your brain isn’t fully turned on, or that you don’t have enough data, or that everyone else is better than you, try to gently encourage yourself to submit that abstract, attend that talk, set up that Zoom meeting. It can’t be denied it’s very hard to stay engaged at the moment, but even one small step in the right direction can have a substantial impact on how you feel about yourself and your work. For anyone reading this who is in the depths of despair, the hole, the fog, hang in there, you are not alone. I see you and believe in you. I promise if I can do it, you can do it.

About Camille:

I am a final year PhD student based in the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. In my research, I use digital pathology and AI to investigate immune infiltration in HER2+ breast cancer. I value the importance of being honest, am passionate about helping others, and hope to encourage other PhD students and researchers to speak their truth. You can find me on Twitter @1camillehurley or via email