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Alumni profile: Dame Bridget Ogilvie

A career in scientific research and scientific leadership:

Dame Bridget OgilvieDame Bridget Ogilvie (Commonwealth Scholar from Australia, PhD Immunology of Parasites, University of Cambridge, 1960-1964) remembers her time as a PhD student as a time of freedom and flexibility. Her supervisor let her manage her own studies, and Bridget credits this in part with developing her sense of independence.

Building on these experiences and strengths, Bridget went on to combine pioneering scientific research with senior leadership roles. As a Research Scientist at the National Institute of Medical Research, her area was the immune response to helminth (worm) parasites, then a rapidly developing field.

She remembers that many people were impressed at her demonstration that these parasites are very efficient stimulators of what are now known as IgE antibodies, which are also found aberrantly in abnormal reactions such as hay fever.

Bridget held a variety of roles at the Wellcome Trust, latterly serving as Director. She cites her main achievement as the establishment of the Sanger Institute, a genomic research centre in Cambridge, UK.

It played a major role in the initial sequencing of the human genome and was instrumental in assuring that the sequence of this genome was not privatised but made immediately available to the world.

The Institute is still internationally important in the field of genome sequencing.

Compared to when she began her own scientific career, Bridget believes that it can be easier now for women to achieve a high-profile career, with men sharing family responsibilities. Women are now more likely to be found across all scientific disciplines.

When I was an undergraduate in agriculture, female students were rare and the same was true in veterinary and human medicine… Now females predominate in both types of medicine. This radical change means a big change in the way these professions run themselves.

Although there are many women at junior levels in the academic biological sciences field, there are few in senior leadership positions. Bridget feels that the pay gap between men and women needs to be addressed by management, and that a top-down approach is needed to ensure equality.

She asserts that men are more likely than women to argue about their salary when taking a post, with the consequence of pay gaps developing. She cites the case of the University of Cambridge, where action has seen the average salary become equal for both sexes.

During her retirement, Bridget has enjoyed working for a number of organisations, including as a Trustee of Cancer Research UK.

My scientific and leadership experience were both crucial for these latest roles.

Photos on flickr

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