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Women in Science

Helen studied pre-clinical medicine at Cambridge and then moved to Oxford for her clinical and post-graduate training. She enjoys combining her work as a GP with her research and teaching students. She is not sure when she will make time to have children but wants them eventually.

Portrait of Helen Ashdown© Women in Science


at the time of the interview - October 2014

Helen is a GP and has just started her DPhil, based in the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences. The DPhil is funded by the National Institute for Health Research, as a Doctoral Research Fellowship. 

Extended biography

at the time of the interview - October 2014

Helen enjoyed science at school and decided to study medicine because she wanted a vocation that made a difference to people. While at Cambridge she enjoyed her third year science based degree, which convinced her that she should have a career that combined academia with clinical practice. Helen did her pre-clinical years at Cambridge and then in 2005 she moved to Oxford to complete her clinical training.

I would love to be a professor of primary care one day. I definitely would like to be promoted. It’s just how that’s going to happen with also wanting to be a really good clinician and also wanting to be a really good mum

In 2008 Helen applied to join the Academic Foundation Programme. She was not immediately successful, but applied again the following year and was awarded a place. This meant that she had extra time to develop research competencies.

In 2010 Helen was awarded a GP Academic Clinical Fellowship. This meant that she had an extra year in which to complete her GP training. She had four years instead of the standard three, and she spent the extra year doing research. As well as practicing as a GP she was able to get involved in several research projects, including leading one about the way patients’ reactions to going over speed bumps in a vehicle could help with the diagnosis of appendicitis. The results of this study were published in the BMJ. Helen also took and passed her MRCP and MRCGP exams, and did a diploma in Health Research.

Helen has now completed all her GP training. In 2014 she started her DPhil, funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR). She has a NIHR Doctoral Research Fellowship. There is a lot of competition for these Fellowships. Helen suspects the reviewers who recommended the award liked the project she proposed for her DPhil, which is concerned with the treatment of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Helen is now working as a GP one day a week, and spends most of her other time on her research for her DPhil. She is also a Lecturer in Medicine at Somerville College. She works very long hours and recognises that it will be difficult to combine her work as a GP, with research, teaching and having children, which she would like to have one day. Nationality: White British.