- Professor Stefan Grimm killed himself after confiding in fellow academics
- The toxicology scientist, 52, had been researching 'anti-cancer gene'
- Imperial College bosses had told him he was not attracting enough grants
- The institution is consistently ranked among the best in the world
A scientist pioneering a new cancer treatment at world-renowned Imperial College London has been found dead after bosses told him to raise more money.
Professor Stefan Grimm apparently gassed himself at home after confiding in fellow academics that university chiefs had treated him ‘like s***’.
In a final email, he wrote: ‘What these guys don’t know is that they destroy lives. Well, they certainly destroyed mine.
‘This is not a university anymore but a business, with a very few, up in the hierarchy, profiteering, and the rest of us milked for money.’
The 52-year-old professor of toxicology, who had been researching an ‘anti-cancer gene’, was discovered dead in his house after his bosses told him he was not bringing in enough money from academic grants.
Imperial College is ranked in the top ten universities in the world. An email sent by Martin Wilkins, head of experimental medicine, to Prof Grimm earlier this year stated he was ‘struggling’ to meet expectations and needed to win research grants worth £200,000 a year.
He wrote: ‘This constitutes the start of informal action in relation to your performance,’ and offered to ‘help’ if Prof Grimm wished to ‘explore opportunities elsewhere’.
Prof Grimm sent an email to colleagues entitled ‘How Professors are treated at Imperial College’ claiming that he had been living under the threat of the sack for more than a year.
In the email, only discovered since his death on September 25, he wrote: ‘Why does a Professor have to be treated like that? These career scientists up in the hierarchy of this organisation only look at figures to judge their colleagues.’
Professor Stefan Grimm (pictured) told his fellow academics that university chiefs had treated him poorly
Saying he had accomplished ‘something exciting’ in the field of anti-cancer genes, he wrote: ‘We have developed something that is probably much more exciting than most other projects, including those that are heavily supported by grants.
‘One of my colleagues here at the College whom I told my story looked at me, there was a silence, and then said: “Yes, they treat us like s***”.’
Imperial College is consistently placed among the top universities in the world, coming 2nd in the 2014/15 QS World University Rankings, and 9th in the 2014/15 Times Higher Education World University Rankings.
Notable alumni include Sir Alexander Fleming, who discovered penicillin in 1928.
Prof Grimm was unmarried and lived alone in a rented house in Harrow, North-West London, where his next-door neighbour Norma Harrington, 84, said: ‘He was very friendly, polite, gentle and diffident.
‘He went off to work at 7.30am and came home at 10pm – he said he was always working.’
‘I noticed he had lost weight recently.
‘It is so sad that someone doing such good work should end up like this.’
Imperial College London (pictured) disputed claims Prof Grimm was facing the sack and said the matter had been at an informal stage
Her husband, retired bank worker Jack Harrington, showed the Mail a note from their neighbour apologising over a delay in paying for cleaning of their joint driveway in which Prof Grimm wrote: ‘Sorry for my slow response, it is a bit stressful in my job at the moment.’
Last night a fellow academic at Imperial said: ‘Perhaps what is most shocking is that none of us are actually shocked this has happened.
‘Higher education is like big business these days, and Imperial is absolutely focused on its position in the global rankings.
‘Lots of us thought academia was about ideas and expanding the realms of science, not a business in which the people who do the research are treated as disposable commodities.
‘Guys like Prof Grimm are victims in this. It is brutal and horrible and unfair. Everybody knows a story about someone who has been targeted because they no longer “fit” or are deemed unproductive in some way.’
Imperial College is ranked in the top ten universities in the world, with past alumni that include Sir Alexander Fleming (pictured), who discovered penicillin in 1928
Writing about Prof Grimm, science blogger Prof David Colquhoun said the problem ‘is by no means limited to Imperial’ and said several other top universities were ‘just as brutal - but in these places nobody has died. Not yet’.
Professor Dermot Kelleher, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at Imperial, told staff in an email: ‘We are all deeply saddened by Stefan’s death and my thoughts are with all those who knew him.’
He said an obituary being prepared told of ‘a scientific life well lived, a phenomenally hard worker, a leader and inspiration to other scientists and a caring man dedicated to his students.’
An inquest was opened and adjourned at West London District Coroner’s Court on October 8.
Yesterday a spokesman for Imperial College London disputed Prof Grimm's claim he had been threatened with the sack, and said the matter had been at an informal stage, adding: 'His line manager met with him on a number of occasions to see how the College could help him to develop more competitive grant applications.
'Discussions included talking about the best place for him to do his science, both inside Imperial and outside, and it is a fact that, with Professor Grimm’s permission, his line manager made enquiries about opportunities on his behalf.
'Stefan Grimm was a valued member of the Faculty of Medicine and news of his death came as a great shock to colleagues.'
The university is conducting its own review to see if there were any 'lessons to be drawn'.
Professor James Stirling, Provost of Imperial College London, said: 'Imperial seeks to give every member of its community the opportunity to excel and to create a supportive environment in which their careers may flourish. Where we become aware that the College is falling short of this standard of support to its members, we will act.'
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