Women in Science
Elspeth did a physics degree at Durham, and then a DPhil at Oxford. After working as a Research Officer for 7 years in the Nuclear Physics Department she moved to Molecular Biophysics. She works on the development and optimisation of data collection techniques for macromolecular crystallography.
at the time of the interview –December 2014
Elspeth is a Professor of Molecular Biophysics, in the Department of Biochemistry. She is a Principal Investigator and Lecturer. She is a widow, and has three children (one she fosters). Nationality/ethnic background: White British.
at the time of the interview -December 2014
Elspeth became interested in science from an early age. She was inspired by a physics teacher, and her father who had been an engineer before he became a vicar.
So I did my DPhil in nuclear physics ... after the first one or two years I just decided that I was who I was and that they would have to accept that. But I always had the feeling that I had to be a bit better than the boys.
After leaving school, and after a ‘life changing’ year teaching in Swaziland, Elspeth went to Durham University to do a degree in physics. Then she did a DPhil in experimental nuclear physics at Oxford. She won a Science Research Council Fellowship, but after one year she obtained a post as a Research Officer in the Nuclear Physics Department, where she worked for seven years. During this time Elspeth got married. When she became pregnant she took a year’s leave of absence, but worked as a physics tutor at St Anne’s College. She stopped work for one week after the baby was born and then asked students to come to her house for tutorials. Elspeth gave up her Research Officer post because she was caring for her baby and an elderly mother-in-law. She moved to Worcester and Somerville Colleges, where she did 12-15 hours a week of tutorials. She also did some research during vacations.
In 1987 Elspeth moved into the field of molecular biophysics. She got a part time job in a lab as a technical manager, looking after new X-ray equipment used for crystallography. Four years later she had another baby daughter, and took three months off work. She wanted to take unpaid leave for another year, but in 1991 this wasn’t allowed, so life was quite tough at that stage. Two friends, who also had babies, combined resources with Elspeth to hire a nanny to help with childcare, until the children went to school.
Elspeth’s main research interest continues to be the development and optimisation of data collection techniques for protein crystallography. She has established new techniques of cryo-cooling for protein crystals. In 1999 she was given a permanent Oxford University contract, as a Lecturer in the Department of Biochemistry. In 2008 she was awarded the title of Professor in Molecular Biophysics. She was also the Director of the Life Sciences Interface (2009-2011) and Systems Biology programmes (2011-2014) at the Doctoral Training Centre, University of Oxford. She has held other prestigious posts, including President of the British Crystallographic Association. She has given many public talks including the Dorothy Hodgkin Memorial Lecture. At the moment, as well as her research, she has undergraduate and post- graduate students and is also a Nicholas Kurti Senior Research Fellow at Brasenose College, and tutor for the graduates there. Elspeth enjoys her work but thinks it is important to develop other interests too. Until now her work and her family have taken up most of her time.