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Women in Science

Amy studied Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry at the University of Oxford and went on to complete a doctorate in Medicinal Chemistry, also at Oxford. She is in the early part of her career and works in the business team of a drug discovery spin-out company associated with the University of Oxford Chemistry department, where she holds the position Vice President of Operations.

Amy Varney


at the time of the interview – 2017

Amy works as VP Operations in the Business Team of OxStem; a drug discovery spin-out company from the University of Oxford that is taking a novel approach to regenerative medicine


at the time of the interview -  2017

Amy attended a state comprehensive school and went on to study A-levels at a sixth form college, both in Southampton. As a young girl, she was interested in the arts and humanities, but this changed when she started secondary school and became fascinated by science.

She was one of very few students in her year group at sixth form college to be offered a place at Oxford or Cambridge for undergraduate study. The college was supportive and a University of Oxford access scheme helped her to become familiar with the application and interview process.

Amy’s undergraduate degree was in Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry, which she found rigorous because of the breadth of the Oxford degree course. She went on to study for a D.Phil. in Medicinal Chemistry through the Systems Approaches to Biomedical Sciences Industrial Centre for Doctoral Training, (SABS-CDT). At the SABS-CDT she undertook multidisciplinary training, which covered a broad range of sciences, as well as entrepreneurial and business programmes. She later focused her interests towards cancer therapeutics and started a rotation in her previous undergraduate supervisor’s laboratory, using small molecules to help unravel cancer epigenetics.

As a fledgling entrepreneur, I would say to women who are thinking of going down that path, to get yourself a great mentor.

After completing her DPhil she began work as part of the co-founding team at OxStem, which is a spin-out company from the Chemistry Department at the University of Oxford. As the only full time employee for the first two years of OxStem’s establishment, Amy coordinated the company’s day-to-day operations including the spin-out of OxStem and its four subsidiaries. As is usual in a young company, Amy’s job is broad and involves varied responsibilities from fundraising and investor relations through to project management and operational delivery.

Although she somewhat misses practical laboratory work, she loves being exposed to a greater breadth of science across OxStem’s four major research programmes, and the variety within her daily working life in the business and scientific world.

Mentors have been very important to Amy throughout her studies and early career. Professor Angela Russell, her former DPhil supervisor and one of OxStem’s scientific co-founders, is a continued academic and entrepreneurial inspiration. Other important female mentors include her previous Blue Boat coaches at the Oxford University Women’s Boat Club and her mother. The former taught her about resilience and consistency in training, which she applies even now to her working life. All her mentors have always instilled in her that she can do anything and their confidence in her has helped Amy to achieve.

Clearly working with inspiring people has been an important factor in her career. However, Amy’s advice to other young women considering working in the scientific business world is that you need resilience, flexibility and creativity to succeed. She encourages other young women who are passionate about science to ‘think outside the box’ because there are so many different opportunities and different types of scientific careers to pursue.