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Women in Science

Catherine started her medical studies at UCL. She gained a PhD in neuroanatomy, before starting her clinical studies at Oxford. After qualifying she was appointed as a Clinical Lecturer. In 2008 she became an Arthritis Research UK Clinical Research Fellow. Now she is a consultant, does research and directs and advises medical students.

Portrait of Catherine Swales© Women in Science


at the time of the interview - March 2015

Catherine is a consultant and Senior Research Fellow in the Nuffield Department of Orthopaedics, rheumatology and musculoskeletal sciences. She is also an Associate Director of Clinical Studies in the medical school and a Fellow in Clinical Medicine at St Hilda’s College. She has two children. 

Extended biography

at the time of the interview - March 2015

At school Catherine was good at science and was encouraged by her parents to study medicine. She went to UCL and loved it. In 1994 she obtained a 1st class honours degree in neuroscience as part of the intercalated BSc system at UCL. She enjoyed the lab work and was invited to stay and do a PhD. Her three year project was funded by the MRC. Some of the work for her PhD took place in Bethesda, Washington, USA.

After getting her PhD in 1997 Catherine decided she wanted to do her clinical training at Oxford. She enjoyed it and at that time met her future husband, who was also at clinical school. She graduated in 2000, and then did her ‘house jobs’ (F1 and F2) in Oxford and Brighton. She then went to Nottingham to do her senior ‘house jobs’, where she took and passed her Membership exams. When preparing for her Membership exams she ‘sat in’ on a clinic for rheumatology and loved it and decided to make that her specialty.

In 2003 she started a Clinical Lectureship in the department of rheumatology at Oxford. This post was funded by the department. As part of her clinical training she ran clinical trials with patients, which was a new experience. She also ran three clinics a week and did some teaching. She had great role models, who were men, and enjoyed the work.

Catherine got married in 2003. When she was 34 she decided that it was time to have a baby, mainly because she knew that the time to have a child was limited. She became pregnant and worked until she was 34 weeks. She then took maternity leave, returning to work part time when her son was six months old. He was very happy in the nursery, which was situated where Catherine worked. Catherine found part-time working difficult, mainly because she felt out of touch with her patients after a few days away.

great things came out of the Fellowship that were, you know, collaborations and friendships and experiences that actually may not be REF returnable but have led to greater opportunities

When Catherine’s son was 18 months old, and when she was pregnant with her second baby, she applied for an Arthritis Research UK Clinical Research Fellowship. She was awarded this three year fellowship, and after her second son started nursery, she started the research project three days a week, gradually increasing her hours to five days a week. Her research was clinical so she still ran clinics. Working part-time was difficult because her experiments needed attention at particular times. Catherine felt that she should take most responsibly for child care and she didn’t want a nanny, so there were times, such as when the children were sick, which were a challenge. However, she always felt that the children should come first. She did not publish as much as she had hoped during the fellowship, but she made good collaborations and friendships. She never experienced gender discrimination but knows that she encountered practical difficulties at work because she chose to take main responsibility for caring for her boys.

After finishing the work for her fellowship Catherine returned to her post as Clinical Lecturer, and did a bit more training so that she could qualify as a consultant. She now works full time and runs clinical trials. She also works in clinics, teaches, is an Associate Director of Clinical Studies for the medical school, and has a fellowship at St Hilda’s College, where she is a clinical tutor, and does a lot of pastoral work. She is very busy, and sometimes has to work at home if the children are ill, but she has great support from a ‘family friendly’ department. She thinks that rheumatology is a good specialty for someone with children or other caring responsibilities, because the on-call is not residential, there are relatively few emergencies, and it is not shift work. Background/nationality: White British.