Ruth Travis, scientist and mud lover

Ruth is a molecular epidemiologist at Oxford University, and a Roman history enthusiast

How did you get into cancer research?

At school I was really torn between the sciences and the arts. I took subjects from both areas for A levels (art, chemistry, geography and biology), and ended up studying archaeology and biological anthropology as my first degree, which allowed me to pursue and combine interests in a number of areas.

I loved hypothesis generating and testing but also the lateral, more creative thinking that interdisciplinary study allowed. One of my lecturers talked about the challenge of trying to unravel the effects of different risk factors (biological and social factors) acting at different stages of life on disease, which led me to discover, and do some research in, an area called ‘life course epidemiology’. This inspired me to do some postgraduate studies in epidemiology.

Searching for a stimulating topic for a master’s dissertation I came across the work of the Cancer Epidemiology Unit in Oxford, who were trying to unravel the complicated webs of risk factors that affect the development of common cancers. I studied for a cancer epidemiology PhD with the group and have worked in the field ever since.  

What is the best part of your job?

Working with lots of really interesting people, who have different areas of expertise and all trying to work constructively together to understand how we might prevent a really complicated but unfortunately common disease.

How many of World Cancer Research Fund's Recommendations do you follow?

I try to exercise regularly (by building it into my commute – I’m lucky enough to be able to cycle to work). I'm actively trying to reduce the amount of red and processed meat in my diet – both for health and environmental benefits.

When you were a child what did you want to be when you grew up?

An archaeologist. I loved mud, discovering new things and the idea of being the first to encounter objects previously handled by fellow humans centuries before. On a dig at a Roman hillfort, I once found a Roman brooch. As I grew older, I realised that this love of solving puzzles and seeking out answers could be applied to fields that would influence our future as a species (as well as to understanding better our past), and this has stayed with me, guiding my postgraduate studies and subsequent research.

Did you ever make anything explode in science lessons at school?

Yes! In my first year of secondary school, we made the windows bulge in the chemistry labs by reacting too much sodium.

Thank you from Ruth

Ruth Travis, WCRF researcherThrough your donations, World Cancer Research Fund funded my recent project on prostate cancer, which provided the largest dataset to date on metabolites and prostate cancer risk. You can read more about the project, A prospective study of plasma amino acids and other metabolites in relation to prostate cancer risk, and what we discovered on the World Cancer Research Fund International website.