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Women in Science

Alison did an Oxford degree in botany followed by a DPhil. After diverse postdocs in several Oxford Departments she established her own independent research programme in NDCLS. She leads a research group developing antibodies as prognostic biomarkers and drugs to treat cancer.

Portrait of Alison Banham© Women in Science


at the time of the interview – October 2014

Alison is Professor of Haemato-oncology and is deputy head of the Nuffield Division of Clinical Laboratory Sciences. She has three teenage children. 

Extended biography

at the time of the interview - October 2014

Alison developed an interest in science when she was a child. She was interested in the natural world, and her father was a scientist. Even though Alison did not do brilliantly at school, her parents encouraged her to study science, and encouraged her to take the Oxford entrance exam. She got into St Catherine’s College and decided to study botany. She got a good degree and then went to Australia for three months to do field biology, which included a trip with other scientists who were doing a crocodile survey.

I really think mentoring’s important and I think helping people and sharing experiences so that they all go and achieve the best that they can is a good use of my time

When Alison returned to the UK she started her DPhil in the same Oxford department. Her subject was rather specialised, looking for a novel nitrogen storage compound, which was thought to be in a bacterium, but which she discovered did not exist.

During her PhD Alison got married, to a man who soon had a permanent job at Oxford, which meant that Alison needed to find a job in the same area. She decided that she ought to widen her skills, so she did six months unpaid work in plant sciences, learning how to make monoclonal antibodies, in a laboratory where her boss was trying to detect fungal toxins in food. Having these additional skills helped Alison get her first postdoc post. She spent three years working on the vaccina virus and leant about molecular biology. She felt that this was something she could apply to any project.

Alison finally found a job in a laboratory making monoclonal antibodies to diagnose different types of blood cancers. This was funded by a five year programme grant. At this stage, when Alison was in her early 30’s she had her two children. She took six months off work for each baby. After that she was allowed to work flexible hours so that she could go home at lunch time to breast feed the baby. Later Alison also became a foster mother.

Alison did get some maternity pay, but it wasn’t as much as women get now. When she returned to work after she had her second child she wasn’t gaining a lot financially because she had to pay for the nursery for her first child, but she wanted to keep her career going.

At this stage Alison’s boss was about to retire, so she co-wrote her own project grant. She ran a lab with another female colleague, and eventually they both obtained their own programme grants. Alison found it very helpful to have someone else to share the burden of running a lab and who she could talk to about problems that might arise. Alison also went on the University Springboard course, which she found very helpful.

Throughout her career Alison has been pro-active when asking for re-grading. She says that it is important to persevere, and have the confidence to apply for jobs, even if you don’t feel qualified. In 2010 Alison became a professor. She thinks that it is now more acceptable to have a career in science and to have a family than it was in the past. She has attended many of the courses offered by the University, such as one about managing research groups, and another one on time management, which she has found very helpful. Ethnic Background/Nationality: White British.