To celebrate our annual research day, we spoke with Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell FRS, President & Vice-Chancellor, University of Manchester, who gave this year's Thomas Young Prize Lecture.

N ROTHWELL MM BA 12

Dame Rothwell worked at St George's from 1979 to 1987 and received her Royal Society Research fellowship during that time. In her career, she has specialised in neuroscience she is know for her research on inflammation in brain disease and the role of Cytokines in brain injuries.

George Pyrgos, Alumni Engagement Officer, caught up with Professor Dame Rothwell to find out more about her life, career and the impression our university left on her.

 

Your connection to St George’s goes back to the late 1970s. As an honorary graduate and a former member of staff, how would you describe St George’s?

As a real hub of health education and research set in a region of health need. What was it like working here as an early career researcher in the 1970s and 1980s? I joined at the end of 1979, but even then St George’s was almost brand new with fabulous facilities, labs and social spaces.

 

You’re now Vice-Chancellor of the University of Manchester, at the peak of your profession. Are you still involved in research, and if so, how do you manage the competing demands of research and leadership?

Yes I am. I am very lucky that many scientists and clinicians who trained or worked with me now have university positions in Manchester; several are professors. So they do the hard work and very kindly keep me involved in all the discussions around ideas, direction, results and plans.

 

Looking back, what drove you to take up a leadership position in your career?

I was persuaded by others. I never had a plan to be a vice-chancellor, or indeed to take on any senior administrative roles. What is the key to your success? Working with, training and appointing people who are smarter than me.

 

How did your experiences at St George’s help shape your career?

It was a time of great success in our research when the research group grew rapidly and I had to take on much more responsibility and training. This was invaluable for my future career. It was also the time when I was awarded a Royal Society Research fellowship that was a key factor in my career, and when I became heavily involved in public engagement activities.

 

Is there a piece of advice that you have received that you have found particularly valuable in your career?

Do as you would be done by.

 

Who has inspired you in your career?

Sir Peter Medawar, who won the Nobel Prize and also wrote great books, and Dame Bridget Ogilvie, an inspiring female leader.

 

What are your favourite memories from St George’s?

Sitting in the bar after work with colleagues and students discussing research. But not the numerous nights I slept in the lab (we did a lot of 24-hour experiments).

 

Research Day celebrates the tremendous research taking place at St George’s and its partner institutions. This year’s event focused on neuroscience.