Jane Larkindale Profile

Jane Larkindale (New Zealand & New 1998) graduated from the University of Oxford with a D.Phil in Plant Sciences, and is currently Vice President Research at Muscular Dystrophy Association in Tucson, Arizona. Prior to starting at MDA, she worked as a research scientist in the University of Arizona's biochemistry department. Throughout her scientific career, Dr. Larkindale has attended business development classes and workshops, and frequently acted as the "scientific expert" for discussion groups and debates on current topics in science. Dr Larkindale holds a BSc (Hons) in Plant Biotechnology and Physics from the University of Otago.

Rhodes Project: Where do you call home?

Jane Larkindale: These days I would say Tucson, Arizona in the United States.

Rhodes Project: Who is your favorite author?

Jane Larkindale: I don’t have a favorite author, I like pretty much any book out there.  Recently I read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – that was very good.  I also enjoyed The Orphan Master’s Son.

Rhodes Project: What is an average work day like for you?

Jane Larkindale: It varies a lot.  Usually a lot of meetings, quite often travel, face to face contact with our patients occasionally.  I do a huge variety of different things from management, to working on contracts, to analyzing science and visiting labs, so it’s hard to say what an average day would be.  Certainly a lot of time in the office!

Rhodes Project: When did you first become passionate about the Muscular Dystrophy Association?

Jane Larkindale: When I moved into the organization six years ago, I was getting more out of my volunteer job than my “real” job and I wanted to do something that was about helping people, and as soon as I started I realized that this is what I want to be doing – working for a non-profit, and doing something directly for people.  So then, I suppose you could say six years ago.

Rhodes Project: Can you tell me about a favorite past project?

Jane Larkindale: I run a number of research programs - one of my main programs is trying to get drugs developed for very rare diseases, and this lead to me giving a grant to an academic who had fantastic technology but no experience of drug development, and I put together an advisory committee for that project and we moved that drug forwards.  That project is in the process of being licensed and looks like it will be taken forward by a company.  It was a wonderful project to work on, seeing the project actually move out of academia and into the real world of drug development, and developing a treatment which may actually work for some of our patients.  It will be a long time from now, but this may be a drug to treat a disease with no current treatment, so that was a pretty exciting project to work on.

Rhodes Project: Can you tell me a bit about your current projects?

Jane Larkindale: I’m Vice President of Research which means I oversee all of our different grant programs, so I don’t actually do any research myself and instead facilitate other people’s research.  I’m working with people around the world trying to figure out which projects are most likely to help our patient population, and then funding them, putting them into contact with other people, running scientific meetings to hash out problems that need to be resolved.  I don’t work on any one project – we support over three hundred projects at any one time, and I’m always trying to keep a track of them all.

Rhodes Project: What is the most rewarding part of your job?

Jane Larkindale: It’s not terribly frequent, but the occasions when I get to speak with our patients, and to be able to look them in the eye and tell them “Something is coming, something major.  We have a drug that may treat your son three years from now.  We may have some way of arresting the progression of your disease.”  That is absolutely the most satisfying part of the job - giving patients and their families that hope, if not for now then for the foreseeable future.

Rhodes Project: What advice would you give to a woman interested in pursuing a career as a scientist?

Jane Larkindale: It depends on which road they’re interested in going down.  If they’re interested in going into academic science, they need to be prepared to be confident - they’ve got to be prepared to fight and believe in themselves.  I think a lot of women back down in the competitive world of grant reviews and going after funding.  There’s the guy attitude of “There’s no harm in trying” and the girl attitude of “I won’t get it so there’s no point in trying”, and I think that holds a lot of women back.  Certainly being confident to the degree of over-confidence, and being willing to stand up for what you believe and going for what you think maybe you can’t get is important.  At the other side of things is thinking ahead at the work-life balance, and at what point in your career do you want to have children.  There’s never a good time, and realizing that if you want to do it then you need to do it and make it work.  I know I left that decision very late, and although it worked out for me, it doesn’t work out for everyone, so thinking ahead is good advice.

Rhodes Project: Is there any one moment in your career that you'd like to revisit and change?

Jane Larkindale: I would absolutely like to change my time as a post-doc at the University of Arizona.  I had a PI who wasn’t in a particularly good place, and didn’t really help the lab, or help people in the lab to publish their work – it didn’t help us move forward with our careers.  If I could go back, I would be more proactive about pushing for that, or change positions to move my career forward.  Perhaps I would’ve had a different life.  I don’t regret what I’ve done, but maybe I would have had some other choices I could’ve considered.

Rhodes Project: What do you like to do outside of work?

Jane Larkindale: Long distance running, hiking or mountain biking – I like to be outdoors, preferably with my family and friends. I also volunteer with our local search and rescue group, which is incredibly satisfying as well as good fun.

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