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Department of Pharmacology


An Interview with Dr Lesley MacVinish

Dr Lesley MacVinish is a Senior Teaching Associate in the Department of Pharmacology and Fellow of Wolfson College. Lesley has been a longstanding member of the department and we will be sad to see her go at the end of 2020.

We interviewed Lesley and asked her about her time working in Pharmacology.

Who are you and what do you work on?

Lesley MacVinish. Epithelial pharmacology – Cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR)

When did you decide to become a research scientist?

I suppose my choices at school determined this. I was a bit of a late developer. Hence my real passion for outreach and mature student participation at University level. We all get to the decisions at different times.

What do you love about your job?

The people in Pharmacology. The students in Pharmacology. The parties in Pharmacology!!

How/why did your research lead you to Cambridge?

I applied for a post-doc position when I moved down to Cambridge from the north of Scotland in 1983 - and got it. The job was to work with the then head of department - Alan Cuthbert, and I've never left - apart from maternity leave and a few years in the Department of Medicine.

What/Who first sparked your interest in Science?

It took a while. I did the whole University thing and then when I got to my first job, Alan Cuthbert's huge drive and enthusiasm rubbed off. The Nature papers also helped!

Why is science fun?

No two days are ever the same. Some days are just so good when it all comes together. Makes up for all the experiments that go wrong along the way!

Did you have to face any hurdles as a woman in science?

Being the main carer for our children and working part-time (first person in the Department; even the School possibly) was a real challenge. But, Alan Cuthbert, to his credit, allowed this unusual request otherwise I would never have maintained my career.

Other than science what is most important for you in life?

My family +++. My garden.

If you were to choose a laboratory superpower what would it be?

To analyse data as you go along. Drummed into me by Alan Cuthbert!

What are your weaknesses and strengths?

Leaving things until the last minute. Despite that - getting things done.

Have you had any embarrassing scientific moments?

Too many! Pouring colleagues solutions down the drain thinking they were soaking for washing. First lecture over after 35 minutes as I was so nervous. Imitating a previous HoD who was standing behind me. Groan!

What female scientist do you most admire and why?

All my Pharmacology female colleagues! They've always supported each other - which I think in this extra-competitive environment is almost unique.

How do you relax?

Gardening and meeting up with family and friends.

What are your aspirations for the future?

To still teach in Pharmacology after I leave in December. I really enjoy my job - it keeps me on my toes and keeps me young!

Do you have any advice to early-career women scientists?

Be assertive! For too long I moaned about situations I found myself in and did nothing about it. I then went on a course, well into my 40s, called Springboard (for women in the University - run out of PPD and VERY novel) and got insight into being able to say what I wanted in my career. It worked and I can honestly say I never looked back!

How would you like to be remembered?

For being a good colleague (hopefully!) and as a teacher who cared about the students enough to go the extra mile.