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Women in Science

Helen trained as a doctor at Guys Hospital. She did her PhD at Oxford and specialises in infectious diseases, such as HIV and TB. She is an Honorary Consultant in HIV and a Wellcome Trust Senior Research Fellow. She divides her time between the clinic, her research and her family.

Portrait of Helen McShaneBackground

at the time of the interview – January 2015

Helen is a clinician and a Professor in Vaccinology in the Jenner Institute, a sub-division of the Nuffield Department of Medicine. She is married and has three children. Ethnic background/ Nationality: White British.

Extended biography

at the time of the interview - January 2015

Helen was interested in science as a child, and when she went into hospital aged 16 to have an operation she liked it, and was convinced that medicine would be a good career. She trained at Guys Hospital and did an intercalated BSc degree in Psychology. After completing her medical training in 1991 Helen did her first hospital jobs in Brighton. The AIDS epidemic had started and she met many patients with HIV. This triggered her interest in infectious diseases. She then moved to Oxford as a Registrar for Infectious Diseases. Then she moved to London to continue her work with HIV patients.

Helen began her PhD at the University of Oxford in 1997, during which time she constructed several candidate tuberculosis vaccines. In 2001, as a result of her work, Helen received a Wellcome Trust Clinician Science Fellowship. This enabling her to start her own research group in Oxford, and complete her clinical training. Helen has been a Wellcome Trust Senior Research Fellow since 2005.

You know, most academics I know spend their evening doing email, and ... that’s just how it is. But it’s the price I pay for having a very full life and three wonderful children ... and a fascinating job that I love.

Since becoming a clinical consultant in 2003 Helen has divided her time between her research, the clinic, and her children. She had one baby towards the end of her PhD and a second during the fellowship. For three years she was paid 80% of full time equivalent, so that she could stay at home on one day and spend time with the children. She thinks she did a full week’s work but this arrangement gave her the opportunity to spend an entire day at home. Later she had her third child. She found that autonomy, flexible working and control over her diary was essential for her to balance her busy life, working in the out-patients’ clinic, running a large research lab and looking after her children.

Helen didn’t have a nanny. She had tremendous support from her husband. They juggled their hours so that one of them was able to take the children to nursery or school while the other picked the children up and put them to bed. She was also supported by her mother, who often helped with the children, particularly when Helen was travelling. Helen still has a hectic life but she loves her job and recommends science to others. Apart from her research, clinic work and caring for her children, she also sits on committees. She is also on the University Council, which she sees as an honour and a privilege.