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Women in Science

Irene studied medicine at Glasgow University. After a postdoctoral post in the USA she returned to the UK, where she worked as a clinician, taught and did research. She now spends most of her time investigating the reasons why children with Down syndrome often have leukaemia.

Portrait of Irene Roberts© Women in Science


at the time of the interview - January 2015

Irene is a Professor of Paediatric Haematology. She works in the Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine and is part of the Department of Paediatrics. She has two children. 

Extended biography

at the time of the interview - January 2015

Both Irene’s parents were scientists. She decided to study medicine and went to Glasgow University. During her first year at medical school, inspired by her anatomy professor, she became interested in embryology and human development. Irene did her basic medical training and then decided to specialise in paediatric haematology. She went to the USA for three years and was offered a research job in a good lab at Vanderbilt University. She did her MD while in the USA.

I think if you have a real interest and a real spark, and you’re driven by the how and the why questions and the real desire to be able to try to answer those questions, you should follow your heart in that

Irene returned to the UK, where she was offered a job as a Clinical Lecturer at Nottingham University. During this time she taught, worked as a clinician and did research. After three and a half years Irene was offered an excellent opportunity to work with an expert in the field of haematology, who was based in London. She decided to accept this postdoc position rather than apply for a consultant’s post. She was soon invited to apply for a job as a Senior Lecturer, which she got. This post came with tenure. Again, the post involved clinical work, teaching and research, which she enjoyed.

During the 25 years that Irene spent in London she got married and had three children. She didn’t have a nanny or other paid help in the house, and managed her work load by using the University Hospital crèche, being organised and by recognising that she couldn’t do everything perfectly. She had a very supportive husband, and colleagues who were helpful and understanding. When she was ‘on call’ she sometimes took her children with her. The ward nurses were happy to look after her children while she talked to patients and parents. By this time she was a consultant so could plan her work to suit her.

Irene loved her research, so she gradually reduced her clinical responsibilities and increased the time she spent on her research. When her clinical work only represented 1% of her work load she had the opportunity to move to Oxford, and over the past 14 months she has been investigating at the reasons why children with Down syndrome are likely to get leukaemia. This work is funded by a Leukaemia charity called Leukaemia and Lymphoma research. Irene is busy building up her lab again and making it a happy place to work. She has also been asked to take on the role of theme lead for non-malignant haematological rare diseases, which she believes will be an exciting part of her work. Ethnic Background/ Nationality: White British.