Heading  up the world’s leading funder of cancer research 

Being the head of the world’s leading funder of cancer research is by no means an easy task, but former Birkbeck student Michelle Mitchell OBE (MSc Politics and Administration 1997), CEO of Cancer Research UK, has shared what has made her successful in her leadership role. 

Highlighted by her impressive experience working for different charities, Michelle is motivated by creating lasting and impactful change in the world today through innovative research. She is determined to see the number of people affected by cancer significantly reduced, hoping that by 2034, Cancer Research UK can fulfil its mission that 3 in 4 people will survive their cancer for at least 10 years. 

Michelle grew up in Merseyside and was the first in her family to attend university. She spent the early years of her career in London working for a local MP. Whilst this gave her a firm understanding of the UK Parliamentary system, Michelle felt more attracted to charity work as this was where she believed real social change could be brought about.   

Her work in the charity sector has seen her working in numerous exciting roles including the Chief Executive of the Multiple Sclerosis Society, the Director General of Innovative UK and also a Non-Exec Board Member of NHS England. 

A particular highlight of her career was during her role as CEO of MS Society, when she oversaw a significant improvement in effective treatment for Multiple Sclerosis. By the time Michelle had left the charity, they had raised over 40 million pounds in just three years. 

Michelle’s life, like so many others, has been directly affected by cancer and she is driven to improve cancer research within the UK. She hopes the work of her charity will ultimately lead to a further increase in the number of cancer survivors. In her role as CEO, encouraging diversity is a strong focal point of hers. She mentioned ‘I strongly believe in diverse teams, I think it’s well-proven that the more diverse organizations are, the better they will perform’. Cancer Research UK has since gone on to create leadership programmes for aspiring leaders at lower levels in the organization. 

Upon reflecting on her time at Birkbeck, Michelle stresses how important it was that Birkbeck provided her with the flexibility to work during the day and study in the evening, allowing her to fund her postgraduate course in Politics and Administration. The determination and strong work ethic of Birkbeck students reassured her that the College was the right university for her. She also reflects on how the diversity of the Birkbeck community encouraged her to challenge ideas, assumptions and opinions, something which she has carried with her throughout her career.  

It will be great to see how Michelle thrives within her role at Cancer Research UK, and how she will help the charity grow from strength to strength and navigate the organisation through a post-pandemic society.  

A transcript of the podcast is available here