Kay Macleod's parents got hauled in by the then headmaster of Hermitage Academy to push her to pursue medicine.

She had got nine As in her O grades and six As in Highers. But she was convinced she wanted to study biology.

And Dr Leslie Young tried to instead persuade her to study medicine.

Years later, Kay - Dr Macleod - is at the top of her profession and has just been promoted to a vital new role in getting science into medicine.

Her passion for biology at Hermitage was fuelled by amazing teachers such as Dr Baxter in biology, Dr Macdonald in chemistry, Mr Tichener in physics, and "perhaps most importantly" Mrs Ann Hendry in maths.

"Both Dr Baxter and Mrs Hendry were really strong female role models," Dr Macleod told the Advertiser.

"I would also mention Mrs Connie Cameron at John Logie Baird Primary who really was the one who got me into maths.

"I remember when I won the maths prize in first year of Hermitage going home and the surprise on my mother’s face.

Helensburgh Advertiser: Kay in 1979 in the Advertiser after she won a math book prizeKay in 1979 in the Advertiser after she won a math book prize (Image: Contributed)

"But I was truly inspired by Mrs Cameron and Mrs Hendry. Teachers as good as them are under-appreciated.

"Mrs Hendry used to have us compete every year in the Maths Challenge and I was a winner in third, fourth and fifth year in high school – it was a lot of fun heading into the city (it was held at Strathclyde University) on the train with Mrs Hendry to collect our awards."

"I had always thought I would go into medicine," she continued. "But it was the advent of molecular biology application to cancer research, and after much thought, decided it was the science I was most into and went onto molecular biology at University of Edinburgh, then PhD at the Beatson Institute in Glasgow. But at that time biology was not consider a robust or serious science."

After her PhD in Glasgow, Dr Macleod began a post-doctoral fellowship at MIT in 1993.

Then she started her own lab at the University of Chicago in 2002.

Despite 30 years in the US, she hasn't lost her west of Scotland accent.

Her parents eventually moved back to Stornoway after many years of mum Mary Ann Macleod working as a nursing sister at the Victoria Infirmary in Helensburgh.

Sister Donna was the sibling who went into medicine, and there are still many friends in Helensburgh and Cardross keeping in touch with the scientist in Chicago. (She offered a particular shout-out to former Gaelic teacher Katie Macdonald.)

Helensburgh Advertiser:

In January, Dr Macleod was named associate director for "basic sciences" for the University of Chicago Medicine Comprehensive Cancer Center (UCCCC).

She is a professor in the Ben May Department of Cancer Research and her role will oversee research across the centre.

The university described her work as "basic research" but using "cutting-edge approaches". So what is "basic" about this? Dr Macleod described it as "scientific research discovery - so the pure science in the lab before it gets to directly helping patients.

Her new role will be key to bringing the research out of the lab and into the clinic - what's called "bench to bedside" by bringing together different expertise together to solve "some of the most important and provocative questions in cancer research".

Dr Macleod's lab work has focused on defects in cells that promote pancreatic cancer and liver cancer. In particular, how does it contribute to cancer cells growing and metastasizing.

She also mentors research fellows and students looking at how fat comes to accumulate in the liver, pushing cancer there. And what factors in the pancreas could present cancer in that organ.

The research could help lead to earlier diagnosis and improve treatment of the disease.

Though she might have avoided choosing medicine out of Hermitage Academy, her scientific route makes her a role model for STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths).

"There are more women in STEM than when I first started in research," said Dr Macleod.

"But there is still sadly too many women dropping out after university or graduate school.

"Academic science is actually really well suited to a healthy lifestyle – there is a lot of flexibility, you are your own boss to a large extent and what I love about it is getting the chance to think about different questions and challenges every day - it's never boring.

"Ad also importantly, most of the people in my lab are young trainees so mentoring them is a bit of a passion.

"Currently, all the researchers in my lab are women – not deliberate and there have been men in my lab in the past. But it is great to watch them grow intellectually and in their experimental skill sets as they apply what they learn to fighting cancer."