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Women in Science

Maggie did a psychology degree at Bristol. After a PhD at University College London, where she studied the causes of dyslexia, she continued with her research, taught and held Chairs at the Universities of Newcastle and York. She now combines her duties as President of St John’s College with research.

Portrait of Maggie Snowling© Women in Science


at the time of the interview - April 2015

Maggie is President of St John’s College, Oxford. She is also a Professor of Psychology in the Department of Experimental Psychology. She has one child and three step children. 

Extended biography

at the time of the interview - April 2015

Maggie did her first degree in psychology at Bristol. She did very well so one of her lecturers suggested she should do a PhD. She was interested in autism but was offered the opportunity to do a PhD in developmental dyslexia, using an experimental psychological approach. Her PhD, which she did at UCL, was funded by an MRC studentship. Maggie needed participants for her experiments. The Director of a Dyslexia Clinic, at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, invited Maggie to observe and then assess and teach the children in the clinic, which eventually gave her access to these children for her experiments. Maggie was looking for the reason for dyslexia. She discovered that dyslexia is due to a problem of oral language and the processing of speech sounds.

In 1979 Maggie was offered a lectureship in a college which was set up for the education of speech therapists, in partnership with University College. This job was tough at first but after a few years Maggie enjoyed it. She continued to do some research, which wasn’t funded. Maggie trained as a clinical psychologist part-time while she was also doing her other job as a lecturer. Having qualified as a clinical psychologist she decided that she wanted to continue with her research, which she did at UCL. Maggie was promoted to Senior Lecturer and when the Principal of the College retired Maggie applied for her job and became Principal. She stayed there for three years, and instilled a research culture in the Department.

I took the view that it was quality not quantity with your child that mattered ... in the evenings I used to always make sure I was trying to do something with him, even if I was late

While Maggie was a head of the department she had a baby and took three months maternity leave. The women in the department all supported each other when they took time off to have children. When Maggie went back to work she had a nanny to help with child care. During this time she became a single parent.

Maggie applied for a Chair in Psychology at the University of Newcastle, which she got. After two years she was headhunted and she moved to the University of York as a Professor of Psychology. She established and became Co-Director of the Centre for Reading and Language. Maggie stayed in York for twenty years. Maggie never felt that there was discrimination on grounds of gender, though sometimes she feels that she has “held back” due to lack of confidence, which she says may be linked to gender in some way. Over the years she has had money from many organiszations, such as the MRC, the ESRC, the Nuffield Foundation, the Wellcome Trust, the British Academy and the EU to support her work. She now has an International reputation and is an expert on the subject of dyslexia and the causes of children’s reading difficulties and how best to ameliorate them.

In 2012 Maggie took up the role of President of St John’s College, Oxford. She is still very involved in research, in collaboration with her husband, who is at UCL. She thinks that as head of a College it is important to remain part of the academic community. She also thinks that the interdisciplinary aspect of her work is important. With colleagues Maggie has obtained funding from the Department for International Development. As Head of the College Maggie sits on many committees, hosts many evening dinners, and has many other commitments. She would like to spend more time with her children and grand-children. Maggie doesn’t think there are gender obstacles to women in science, but that women lack confidence. She says that women must seize opportunities when they come. Ethnic group/nationality: White British.