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Women in Science

Tao did a degree in China, and then came to Oxford, where she did her DPhil, working on the HIV virus. Then she was given a permanent contract to conduct research on diseases such as influenza and Hepatitis B, funded by the MRC. She has also been awarded other grants and she collaborates with researchers in China.

Portrait of Tao Dong© Women in Science


at the time of the interview - May 2015

Tao is a Professor of Immunology and Founding Director of CAMS-Oxford Centre for Translational Immunology. She works in the MRC Human Immunology Unit, and is part of both the Radcliffe Department of Medicine and the Nuffield Department of Medicine. She has two children.

Extended biography

at the time of the interview - May 2015

Tao started her first degree (in biological sciences) in 1983. Her teachers in China encouraged her to think creatively, ‘outside the box’. Tao thinks that at that time men and women were treated equally at university.

[my] mentor really encouraged me to ... think more about what I want, how to face the difficult situations ... she said, ‘Just laugh about it, whatever happens and life will go on ... Science is the most important thing'

When Tao was 26 she wanted to travel. Her husband got a scholarship from the Chinese and UK governments to do his DPhil at Oxford. Tao found a job as a research assistant. She worked very hard, spending many weekends in the lab. After three months her supervisor suggested she should do a DPhil too, which she did, working on HIV. Tao liked seeing how her research could help patients. Her DPhil was funded by an Overseas Student Scholarship, from Oxford, and a Trinity College scholarship.

When Tao and her husband came to Oxford they had a one year old daughter. They left her with Tao’s parents in China for 18 months while they settled down in the UK. When their daughter arrived in Oxford, aged three, Tao found her a place in the college nursery.

Tao and her husband had another daughter about two years after Tao finished her DPhil. Both sets of grand-parents came to Oxford to help with child care (eight months each). It is normal in China for grand-parents to help with child care. When the baby was eight months old she went to the nursery. Tao says that her husband is very ‘supportive’.

After her DPhil, Tao was offered a permanent post at Oxford, to work in a newly formed MRC Human Immunology Unit. Tao has also been awarded other grants to support her work. Tao’s group studies various viruses, including Hepatitis B, HIV and influenza. In collaboration with hospitals in China, the aim is to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the immunological mechanisms behind viral diseases.

Tao doesn’t think she has been treated differently because of her gender or ethnic group, but she recogniszes that women have fewer opportunities as they become more senior. She also thinks that women, including her, tend to lack confidence. She says that it would be hard to employ someone part-time as postdoc, partly because a lot of thought goes into each project, and also because different people do experiments in different ways, but it should work for a research assistant. She finds research very exciting and recommends it as a career.