Interview with Prof Anthony Chalmers, recipient of the Interdisciplinary Award at ESTRO 2024


 Anthony Chalmers

University of Glasgow

Glasgow, UK


The Interdisciplinary Award was established in 2023. The award targets radiotherapy professionals who have made an outstanding contribution to a cause in radiotherapy outside of their own speciality.

The recipient of this prestigious award delivers a lecture at the ESTRO Annual Meeting.


Congratulations on receiving the Interdisciplinary Award! How does it feel to be recognised for your outstanding contribution to a cause in radiotherapy outside your own speciality?

I feel quite overwhelmed, actually. I’ve been a member of ESTRO since 2008 and the Society has played a crucial role in my personal and professional development, so it feels extremely special and quite emotional. I can vividly remember how huge and impressive the conference seemed when I first attended, so to be recognised for my contribution to ESTRO is a very big deal.


Your outstanding contribution spans beyond your speciality. Can you elaborate on the specific project or initiative that earned you this recognition and its impact on the field of radiotherapy?

I don’t think this award relates to a specific piece of work. My impression is that it reflects many different activities and collaborations over the past two decades. As a clinician scientist I’ve always worked at the interface of clinical oncology and radiation biology ‑ I always struggle to know which box to tick on the ESTRO surveys! In recent years I’ve also worked closely with radiation therapists and physicists (!) so I definitely consider myself to be an interdisciplinary being.


Given that the Interdisciplinary Award targets professionals who contribute to causes outside their speciality, how do you perceive the role of collaboration and interdisciplinary approaches in advancing radiotherapy practices and outcomes?

It’s been a real pleasure to witness the increasing trend towards interdisciplinary projects and programmes in radiotherapy research. It’s pretty obvious that teams made up of people with different skills and experience are going to make more progress than teams in which everyone thinks in the same way and uses the same techniques. This is particularly true in radiotherapy, where every single treatment requires several professional groups using multiple technologies. It’s becoming a bit of a cliché to talk about ‘Team Science’, but there can be no doubt that this is the only way to tackle the complex challenges we face in treating difficult cancers.


As part of the award tradition, you will be delivering a lecture at the ESTRO annual meeting. Can you provide a sneak peek into the key themes or insights you plan to share during your lecture, and how it relates to the interdisciplinary nature of your contribution?

Absolutely not! Seriously, I don’t even know myself yet – there are so many things I’d like to say, it will be quite a challenge to put together a coherent presentation. The more I’ve been thinking about it, the more people I would like to thank and the more multidisciplinary I’ve realised some of my projects are. So I’ll try to acknowledge as many of the amazing people I work with as possible, and try not to go over time.


In what ways has your interdisciplinary work influenced your own professional development and broadened your perspective within the field of radiotherapy?

My research career really began in the laboratory, and in the early years I envisaged myself mainly working in discovery science. There was a big shift when I started leading my first clinical trial, and I realised how much I enjoyed working with all the different people it takes to run a successful study. As my career has progressed I’ve relished the opportunity to oversee and advise on a broad range of projects, and to interact with and learn from researchers of all disciplines from all over the world. I think I’m better at this ‘big picture’ stuff than I ever was in the lab, and am very thankful that I made it through the challenges and bottlenecks of the early years and get to have these opportunities.


How do you see the Interdisciplinary Award contributing to the recognition of diverse efforts within the radiotherapy community and inspiring professionals to explore collaborations beyond their specialities?

Obviously I think this is an excellent and important award! But I also believe that people working at the interface of different disciplines can sometimes be overlooked or undervalued – the scientific community often prioritises very specific and sometimes obscure discoveries. So I’m delighted by anything that encourages people to open their minds and work across disciplines.  


In your journey of making an outstanding interdisciplinary contribution, were there moments of realisation or milestones that affirmed the impact of your work? Could you share an anecdote or pivotal experience that stands out in your memory?

This isn’t really answering the question, but my experience on the ESTRO mentorship programme definitely stands out. As a first-time mentor, I was paired with a research physicist and was very concerned that I would have little to offer them, since I know almost nothing about radiotherapy physics. As it happened, this lack of knowledge made me a better mentor because I didn’t bring any preconceptions or personal preferences to the role. It was a hugely rewarding experience and it’s been a huge pleasure to see my mentee flourish and progress.


For professionals aspiring to make interdisciplinary contributions, what advice would you offer based on your own experiences and success in this regard?

Try to bring an open mind to conversations and projects. And don’t be afraid to say that you don’t understand what the other person is talking about. One of the big challenges to interdisciplinary projects is the fact that different professional groups tend to speak in different languages (even if nearly all speak perfect English, for which I am incredibly grateful). It’s a great exercise in thinking and speaking clearly and avoiding jargon. Also, keep checking that you are being understood. There’s nothing worse than having a meeting you think went well and finding out weeks later that nobody knew what you were talking about. 


Looking forward, how do you envision the future of interdisciplinary efforts in radiotherapy, and what role do you hope the Interdisciplinary Award will play in encouraging and celebrating such endeavours?

Interdisciplinary projects are the present and the future of radiotherapy! I look forward to a time when expertise and enthusiasm are valued more highly than job titles. As a radiotherapy community, we are lucky that most of us work in multidisciplinary teams to begin with, so let’s build on that, embrace our differences and cure more patients!


Finally, as your institute is situated in the city of Glasgow, could you provide our readers with a glimpse into what makes Glasgow unique and share a few highlights that could drive their enthusiasm for the upcoming congress?

All those with a link to radiotherapy in Glasgow are extremely excited about hosting the ESTRO conference for the first time. It’s a wonderful venue – the conference centre is in the middle of the city, on the banks of the River Clyde and close to hundreds of interesting bars and restaurants. Everything is within walking distance, so the area should be very easy to navigate and lots of fun. The city’s motto is ‘People Make Glasgow’ and it’s really true! I think the delegates will notice what a friendly city it is, and I hope people will add a few days before or after the meeting to explore Glasgow and the rest of Scotland. The lochs and mountains are only 30 minutes away, and May is a great time to visit. And of course the conference itself is going to be fantastic – the scientific programme looks exciting and there have been more abstracts submitted than ever before (2985 in total). I look forward to welcoming the ESTRO family to Glasgow!