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Women in Science

Marian studied medicine at Cambridge and Edinburgh. She was interested in obstetrics but her interest in epidemiology led her to specialise in public health, therefore after her DPhil she trained as an Academic Consultant in Public Health, and moved to the National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit. She worked part-time after the birth of her first child until the third was at school. She has been awarded several important grants to fund her research into maternal and child health.

Portrait of Marian Knight© Women in Science


at the time of the interview - May 2015

Marian is a NIHR Professor of Maternal and Child Population Health and an Honorary Consultant in Public Health. She has three children. 

Extended biography

at the time of the interview - May 2015

When Marian was at school she was good at science. She studied medicine at Cambridge and Edinburgh. She spent her third year doing research, which included lab based pathology and biological anthropology. This work fired her interest in research. After she qualified she did her did her ‘house jobs’ and then decided she would like to be be an obstetrician. She did senior ‘house jobs’ in obstetrics, and then spent three years in Oxford doing a DPhil, working in a lab, searching for fragments of placenta in the circulation of women who had pre-eclampsia, looking for the cause of this condition. She enjoyed it immensely, but decided that she did not want to spend the rest of her career in a lab. She wanted a career which made a difference to patients in the short term rather than in the long term. While she was doing this work she got involved in a systematic review of treatment for pre-eclampsia, which is when she got interested in epidemiology and population health.

I work in maternal and child health and I know that actually pregnancy becomes more risky when you’re older and you know you might not get pregnant when you want to and all of those motivated me to not wait to have a family

Marian decided to specialise in public health and not in clinical obstetrics partly because she knew that public health would be more ‘family friendly’. This is because ‘on call’ is spent at the end of the phone giving advice about outbreaks in conditions such as diarrhea and vomiting, rather than in the ward delivering babies. She was aged 31 and about three months pregnant with her first child when she started work as an NHS Registrar, training to be an Academic Consultant in public health. She did six months in this post and then took seven months maternity leave, which was funded by the NHS. She had two other children quite soon afterwards, taking several months’ maternity leave each time. For a while she worked part-time, either three or four days a week, which worked well because she was studying rare diseases and the longer time period for her research gave her more time to collect the data. Her flexible job also made it easier to have a family.

Marian moved to the NPEU in Oxford, where she could get more training in public health and epidemiology. She was awarded a Post-Doctoral NIHR Fellowship, to fund her work. She says that writing fellowship applications needs confidence and persistence, and that it is useful to have some pilot data to inform the application. Then she got a NIHR Programme Grant, which funded her work for the next five years, and in 2012 she was awarded a NIHR Professorship, which gave her five more years funding.

Marian does some teaching, which she enjoys. She also enjoys the contact she has with patients when they get involved in research. She feels that her children are her greatest achievement and she says that other people are often surprised that she has three children and a very successful career. She hopes that she has made a difference to women’s lives. Ethnic background/ nationality: White British.