The Meaning of Success has been compiled from contributions submitted by 126 women. Some have been featured in the profiles throughout this book; our sincere thanks are also extended to the following women who so generously shared their time, insights and experiences for this project:


Dr Kirsty Allen

Principal Assistant Registrary and the Head of the Registrary’s Office

"Stamina, patience and a sense of humour are amongst the things which get me through. That and building good, strong relationships with colleagues."

Dr Abir Al-Tabbaa

Reader in Geotechnical Engineering

"There are sufficient women in the University for us to work together, make a difference and take on challenges. There is no need to feel alone: many women in the University have had similar experiences."

Dr Terri Apter

Senior Tutor at Newnham; Affiliated Lecturer in Psychology

"I bought into the family structures that set me up as primary carer of our children, and it was very difficult for me to relinquish what that offered me. Children’s development and the passions and penalties of parenting then became the focus of my professional interest. So what I had thought was a detriment to my career became its foundation."

Professor Madeleine Arnot

Professor of Sociology of Education; Professorial Fellow at Jesus College

"Being female at a time when the women’s movement took off has been wonderful. I have made so many good friends, travelled the world and found like-minded women, I have helped and seen women advance in their careers and worked on wonderful projects that focus on gender. All this has given me a role, a network and an extraordinary link to the era."

Sue Aspinall

Research Laboratory Manager, Departmental Safety Manager, Department of Plant Sciences

"Be positive and don’t always believe the system is against you – look at your achievements. For me that means, ‘Don’t just think I’ve been lucky!’"

Dr Claire Barlow

Senior Lecturer and Director of Undergraduate Education, Department of Engineering

"Be bold and seize opportunities! But get good at saying ‘no’ to things where people are actually taking advantage of you. There has to be something in it for you."

Professor Catherine Barnard

Professor in European Union and Employment Law; Fellow of Trinity College

"I recognise that my own time at Cambridge has benefited from the support given by a number of colleagues – among them some men – who have seen that the gender imbalance needs addressing and that they should assume some responsibility for assisting in that process. In turn, I also feel a responsibility towards women beginning a career at the University. I recognise the hesitancy that some feel about pushing themselves forward and try to provide them with support."

Professor Dame Gillian Beer

King Edward VII Professor of English Literature Emeritus

"Gender is in the grain of all we do: sometimes it makes one an irritant but it also allows you to contribute fresh experience. I was fortunate to have a female-centred education and to take for granted that women would occupy positions of authority."

Alice Benton

Head of Educational and Student Policy, Academic Division

"Look after your friends and colleagues when they need help. They’ll help you when you need it."

Professor Natasha Berloff

Professor of Applied Mathematics, Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics; Fellow of Jesus College

"Never sacrifice your dreams just to be convenient."

Professor Serena Best

Professor of Materials Science, Department of Materials Science and Metallurgy

"Much of my success has been because of the support and ‘pushing’ that a good mentor provides. A good mentor can be male or female, but it is essential to find people who are motivated and who take their role seriously."

Dr Jane Blunt

Safety Officer, Department of Physics

"I believe that I have made a significant difference at University level since, when I joined, there was almost no guidance literature for staff. I wrote quite a lot of what is now on offer. On a personal note, I am also very pleased to have achieved a black belt in judo (in my thirties) and taekwondo (in my sixties)."

Lucinda Bowditch

MSt Administrator, Institute of Criminology

"I think you get out what you put in – I like to do things to the best of my ability and I believe I have received the rewards (not necessarily financial but in satisfaction and personal commendations)."

Professor Carol Brayne

Professor of Public Health Medicine; Director of the Cambridge Institute of Public Health

"Teaching is a privilege and supervising students, bringing people on, is tremendously rewarding, very different from the thrill of research outputs."

Dr Abigail Brundin

University Senior Lecturer in Italian; Fellow and Director of Studies in Modern Languages, St Catharine’s College

"Be pushier. Don’t hang back and wait to be asked – ask first. If you don’t get good advice, seek a second opinion, further afield."

Professor Ruth Cameron

Professor of Materials Science; Director of Cambridge Centre for Medical Materials; Fellow of Lucy Cavendish College

"I have received much support over the years from the University, Department and College in being able to work flexibly and balance outside and work commitments. This has made a huge difference."

Ann Cartwright

Institute Administrator, Wellcome Trust/Cancer Research UK Gurdon Institute

"You should never be afraid of being unpopular for something that you feel is right. Popularity is transient."

Professor Jennifer Clack

Professor and Curator of Vertebrate Palaeontology, University Museum of Zoology

"I don’t think of myself as ‘a woman’. I think of myself as ‘a person’."

Dr Menna Clatworthy

University Lecturer in Transplantation Medicine; Honorary Consultant Nephrologist; Fellow and Director of Studies in Clinical Medicine, Pembroke College

"It’s great to have a job you love, and I am very fortunate to be able to have such an interesting job combining research, clinical medicine and teaching."

Professor Ann Copestake

Professor of Computational Linguistics, Computer Laboratory

"I’ve experienced stereotyping and unconscious bias but I can’t tell how much it has affected me."

Polly Courtice

Director, Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership

"Combining a full-time career with family life was exciting but also very demanding. It made me all the more committed to supporting other women trying to do the same thing."

Dr Hannah Critchlow

Content Designer, Editor and Presenter, Naked Scientists, Department of Pathology

"I’m still trying to find out what the best answer is to dealing with gender inequality. But for the time being I just try to be myself and be as reasonable, firm and clear as possible."

Sue Davis

Manager, University of Cambridge Childcare Services

"I aim to reach a win/win solution where possible, by being sensitive but also realistic. Dealing with people is not easy, but it is always worth trying to understand their position before responding or reacting to them."

Professor Judith Driscoll

Professor of Materials Science, Department of Materials Science and Metallurgy

"I think it is not a question of how I (or other women scientists) can help other women scientists, as I believe most of us do a lot in this regard, but it is more a matter of the fact that institutional changes are needed."

Dr Caterina Ducati

Reader in Nanomaterials, Department of Materials Science and Metallurgy

"It matters to me to have secured a job that allows me to search freely and discover... permanently."

Dr Helena Earl

Reader in Clinical Cancer Medicine, Department of Oncology

"There is success in every woman, no matter if they are well known or not. The old classics are filled with ‘heroes’ rescuing helpless princesses from deadly fates, yet now in the field of modern science the reality of ‘heroines’ has emerged."

Dr Karen Ersche

Senior Research Associate at the Department of Psychiatry; Leader of the Human Drug Addiction Group

"Never give up!"

Dr Patricia Fara

Senior Tutor, Clare College; Affiliated Lecturer, Department of the History and Philosophy of Science

"I think that my generation suffered from trying to match two conflicting role models: we were still expected to behave like conventional women (basically looking attractive and being good wives and mothers), but at the same time we were being told that we were living in a new era of liberation."

Dr Helen Firth

Consultant Clinical Geneticist, Cambridge University Hospitals Trust; Honorary Faculty Member, Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute; Bye-Fellow of Newnham College

"Quite minor changes in work-life balance can have a dramatic effect on your happiness, so it’s always worth reappraising this every few years."

Sarah Foreman

Head of Maintenance, Estate Management

"Success is out there for the taking: just grab it with both hands. A successful career requires determination, a firm resolve, dedication and damn hard work, but so does everything worth achieving in life."

Professor Abigail Fowden

Professor of Perinatal Physiology, Personal Chair; Deputy Head of Department, Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience

"Being female means you tend to be underestimated, at least it did when my career began."

Professor Mary Fowler

Master, Darwin College

"The people for whom I have huge admiration are the current generation of PhD students, postdocs and early career academics who are managing to combine their academic work with raising young children. There is more childcare available than decades ago and maternity leave, flexible working, career breaks etc., are now seen as mainstream, but nevertheless having the determination to overcome the sleepless nights, juggle the multiple demands on your time and emotions, and still produce high-quality academic work is not easily or lightly achieved."

Professor Sarah Franklin

Sociology Professor, Department of Sociology

"Women face enormous discrimination in the academy. This is most evident in the lack of citation of women’s work, in the inability to fully recognise women’s achievements, the constant marginalisation of their work and the constant denial that any of this is happening."

Dr Jennifer French

Research Fellow in Archaeology and Anthropology

"I would urge people (especially women, as most of the ones I meet are less willing to do this than men) to realise that a bit of self-promotion and confidence (as long as it is not at the expense of others) is an excellent thing and a vital tool for getting ahead."

Professor Susan Gathercole

Director of the Medical Research Council Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit

"There are many blind alleys and when you get to these, it can be frustrating and hard to think about fresh approaches. Resilience is the only answer!"

Dr Fanni Gergely

Royal Society University Research Fellow and Research Group Leader at Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute

"Setting up a small yet productive research group has probably been the achievement that mattered to me the most. It has been a long process full of ups and downs (and ups again)."

Professor Valerie Gibson

Professor of High Energy Physics, Cavendish Laboratory

"You CAN do research and have a family. If you decide to go down this route, make sure that you have understanding and support in place from your partner/family/childcare etc. Accept that you will not necessarily have the same career trajectory as others – if the quality of your research is excellent you will succeed. Talk to others and you will find that you are not alone."

Professor Fiona Gilbert

Professor of Radiology, Head of Department of Radiology

"It’s crucial to keep focus on what is important and to keep pursuing your goals. Try to avoid giving up after a disappointment, but learn from your failures and try to find a way to succeed. I have a very strong belief that you can succeed in something if you really want it enough."

Dr Emma Gilby

Senior Lecturer, Department of French

"In my teaching, I try to be encouraging, because I dislike posturing and hierarchies."

Professor Beverley Glover

Professor of Plant Systematics and Evolution; Director of Cambridge University Botanic Garden

"Cambridge has very many examples of inspiring women, most of whom are very approachable and happy to help their colleagues find their own path."

Dr Jane Goodall

Research Fellow and Group Leader, Department of Medicine

"I think my main challenges are yet to come; supporting my son through his teenage years, achieving a tenured research position and helping my parents as they face increasing disability with age. My last thought comes from experiences from my photography which I think is generally applicable to everything in life: ‘You’ll never see the sunrise lying under the duvet.’"

Margaret Greeves

Emeritus Fellow, Wolfson College; formerly Director of Renaissance Projects for the Museums of the University

"Try to have a reliable mentor within the University and another wise ‘critical friend’ outside it."

Dr Fiona Gribble

Professor of Endocrine Physiology; Wellcome Trust Senior Research Fellow; Honorary Consultant in Clinical Biochemistry

"Get out there and make yourself known to the leaders in your field around the world, because they will be the ones who will review your grants, papers and career progression applications."

Professor Gillian Griffiths

Director of Cambridge Institute for Medical Research; Professor of Immunology and Cell Biology; Wellcome Trust Principal Research Fellow; Fellow of King’s College

"Like most other women scientists I have the usual stories of being ignored, and it being presumed that I am present at a meeting as a secretary rather than an academic."

Nicola Hardy

Senior Esquire Bedell

"There are some amazing things for us to achieve together as colleagues in a world-class academic institution, and also some incredible conversations for us to have as friends."

Dr Liz Hide

University of Cambridge Museums Officer

"I work part-time: neither better nor worse than full-time, but different. I have found this approach personally empowering."

Dr Jennifer Hirst

Principal Research Associate, Clinical Biochemistry

"Some of my best ideas come to me in the middle of Jazzercise or karate! Being around my children helps me put a better perspective on life – so a disastrous day at work where nothing has worked is quickly forgotten about. This keeps me fresh for the next day!"

Professor Simone Hochgreb

Professor, Department of Engineering

"Being part of a minority brings particular visibility, which can work in one’s favour by bringing attention to positive achievements. On the other hand, the small numbers of women mean significant responsibility – performance is expected to be stellar across the board, or risk becoming a poor representative for the minority group, thus validating any prevalent prejudices."

Professor Deborah Howard

Professor of Architectural History; Fellow of St John’s College

"It is usually not acceptable for a woman to be seen to be angry, as she is regarded as hysterical and out of control, whereas a man can get away with it."

Isobel Humphrey

Assistant Registrary, Academic Division

"My greatest asset in overcoming challenge is my network of friends and colleagues; the wisdom of others is really important."

Diane Ingham

Business Services Administrator, Estate Management

"I will always help other members of staff if they need me (especially the underdog), no matter whether they are within my section or not. I like to see people happy in their workplace as I am extremely happy in mine."

Dr Lisa Jardine-Wright

Educational Outreach Officer, Cavendish Laboratory

"My weakness was not feeling able to ask questions – not wanting to show lack of knowledge or understanding. Developing the confidence to acknowledge this weakness and to ask questions became my biggest strength. I have truly learned the lesson that there is no such thing as a stupid question."

Professor Fiona Karet

Professor of Nephrology; Honorary Consultant in Renal Medicine

"The women I admire are those who know how to play well as well as work well."

Dr Linda King

Director of Studies, St Edmund’s College

"My view of my career now is that I want a good work-life balance. Success is measured in many ways – the most important of which is how you feel about yourself."

Professor Alison Liebling

Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice; Director of the Prisons Research Centre, Institute of Criminology

"Be authentic, summon support, find like-minded others, do what you believe in, trust your instincts, take up offers of intellectual and other support/friendship, never compromise your basic values or identity."

Professor Judith Lieu

Lady Margaret’s Professor of Divinity

"There have been moments of invisibility and (often unintentional) marginalisation, but more generally I have been fortunate in the amount of support I have received. Perhaps I have been more determined to challenge attempts to pigeon-hole me."

Debbie Lowther

Bursar, Girton College

"It’s an old chestnut, but I think it’s true, that it’s amazing what you can achieve if you don’t mind who gets the credit. The hard bit is getting the credit that’s due to you."

Dr Sam Lucy

Admissions Tutor and Financial Tutor, Newnham College

"Never, ever, volunteer to make or pour the tea for a meeting if there are fewer than 50 per cent women in the room."

Dr Jane MacDougall

Consultant Obstetrician & Gynaecologist and Subspecialist in Reproductive Medicine

"I was told at an early stage that I needed to be better than my male colleagues in order to get the good jobs."

Helen Marshall

Teaching Office Administrator, Department of Physics

"When I was at school in the mid 1970s, girls of my age in my school were not given any advice on what to do next. I felt it was assumed that I would become a ‘secretary’ because that’s what a lot of my peers were doing. I don’t think that is the case now."

Professor Theresa Marteau

Director of Research; Director of the Behaviour and Health Research Unit; Honorary Professor of Behaviour and Health

"I still find myself in places where one can be forgiven for thinking women have yet to be invented. Pointing this out – with grace and humour, but more importantly attempting to remedy it – is just one small example of the many interventions that senior academic women can make in working towards a 50:50 society."

Dr Helen Mason

Personal Readership in Solar Physics, Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics

"My main challenges came when I had children. Good parenting requires time and dedication. I addressed this by working part-time, without compromising the quality of my research."

Genevieve Maul

Science Communications Officer, Office of External Affairs and Communications

"As the third of three girls, I benefited from a father who made sure we were not limited by our gender while growing up. I always had male friends, and I played on the all-male soccer team in high school because there was not one for women. I truly believed that I could do anything a man could do."

Jessie Monck

Development Consultant, Personal and Professional Development

"Despite ongoing inequalities, I still feel incredibly fortunate to be alive today in this country rather than when women could not vote/work/ own property/study/receive a degree. Or indeed, cannot do these things today in far too many countries."

Professor Gillian Murphy

Professor of Cancer Cell Biology; Deputy Head of the Department of Oncology

"I feel very fortunate to be one of the first generation of working-class people, post-war, to succeed academically. Despite all the problems of UK education, I have appreciated the excellent teaching that I have received to allow me to do this."

Vicky Neale

Senior Teaching Associate, Department of Pure Mathematics and Mathematical Statistics

"It is better (although not always easier) to be oneself than to try to be someone else."

Rosalyn Old

Former President of the Cambridge University Students’ Union; member of the University Council

"As you climb up the ladder, help other women up with you; don’t drop the ladder when you get to the top."

Dr Rachel Oliver

Reader in Materials Science, Department of Materials Science and Metallurgy

"What I am currently learning is that there is a way of being a successful female scientist without working twelve-hour days and having no family life. Whether the compromises I am making in order to achieve this are the right ones, I don’t yet know!"

Dr Rosanna Omitowoju

Senior Language Teaching Officer, Faculty of Classics

"Students will turn to me with problems, both pastoral and work-related, and I think that this is part of very complex gender expectations."

Nicola Padfield

Reader in Criminal and Penal Justice; Master of Fitzwilliam College

"My greatest achievement in my own eyes is that I have been able to have a career which has involved such variety: I love teaching, but have also been privileged to be involved in important research projects, and to take a role on a more public stage. My three children are hugely important to me – they matter most, but are they an achievement?! More of a privilege."

Professor Sharon Peacock

Professor of Clinical Microbiology

"Being self-propelled and interacting with the people around you is more important than waiting for sage advice, since no one will know what is better for you than yourself."

Karina Prasad

Head of the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs

"I would say now that my daughter is grown I have a renewed energy to get stuck into projects and initiatives and view this next chapter of my working life with great enthusiasm and vigour; with more than twenty years of working life in front of me it is almost as though I have a new career, which is rather exciting."

Dr Wendy Pullan

Senior Lecturer and Director of the Martin Centre for Research, Department of Architecture

"Many of my generation have been less confident about our place in academia and demanded less; we were more willing to put up with being a safe pair of hands. Women today have a clearer sense of what they want to do (if not necessarily who they want to be), and they find ways of getting there faster; they expect and demand a more egalitarian workplace."

Dr Julia Riley

Senior College Lecturer in Physics; Fellow, Director of Studies and Vice Mistress, Girton College; Affiliated Lecturer, Graduate Training Coordinator, Department of Physics

"I am me and I have taken life as it comes."

Professor Margaret Robinson

Professor of Molecular Cell Biology, Cambridge Institute for Medical Research

"I don’t seem particularly imposing, and I certainly don’t play power games, but this hasn’t prevented me from doing well in my field."

Dr Corinne Roughley

Affiliated Lecturer, Division of Archaeology

"Supportive colleagues make the impossible possible, and it can be surprising who that might turn out to be."

Dr Corinna Russell

College Lecturer and Director of Studies in English

"The most gendering experience has been motherhood, but this has brought with it some great philosophical opportunities for contemplation: what does a career look like that isn’t defined by ‘achievement’ in the same way as some of my male colleagues’ might be? How else might it be meaningful and satisfying? How can I pass on lessons, to students and colleagues frequently hag-ridden by the pressure to succeed, from an episode in my life when my capacity for brilliance and achievement have been significantly reduced, or in abeyance?"


Caroline Saunders

Head of Clinical Operations at Addenbrooke’s Clinical Research Centre

"I am often at meetings, on committees and on boards where women are a minority. I don’t find this a disadvantage. I think provided you have a clear understanding of your own thoughts, views and plans your voice has equal weight with those of men."

Dr Suchitra Sebastian

University Lecturer and Royal Society University Research Fellow, Department of Physics

"My biggest learning has been to remain myself, and not lose a lightness of spirit and an appreciation of other people as I find a way to survive and succeed in my field."

Professor Alison Sinclair

Professor of Modern Spanish Literature and Intellectual History, Department of Spanish and Portuguese

"Do the things you want to do, rather than simply the things you feel others want you to do."

Dr Ruchi Sinnatamby

Consultant Radiologist and Clinical SubDean for Cambridge University Hospitals; Director of Studies in Clinical Medicine

"Being nominated for this feels like an affirmation in itself – thank you!"

Professor Alison Smith

Professor of Plant Biochemistry, Department of Plant Sciences

"Gender is important, but it should not define you. On the other hand it is quite all right to behave like a woman in committees etc. – after all, most men behave like men."

Dr Annabel Smith

Graduate Programme Manager, Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute

"I think it would have been useful to have sought out appropriate (female) mentors during my career, especially as this may have helped to give me more confidence. Sometimes you just need someone to tell you, ‘Yes, you can do this.’"

Sarah Smith

Business and Operations Manager, Cambridge Institute for Medical Research

"Learn all that you can from role models, irrespective of their gender or age. If you have a manager who is ineffective in certain ways, then learn how not to manage. Even if you are in a role that you dislike, learn everything that you can from it and then use those skills for your next move."


Dr Claire Spottiswoode

BBSRC David Phillips Research Fellow, Department of Zoology

"It seems a good idea to find what it is that you love and do it, and along the way find people you like to do it with."

Meg Staff

Research and Graduate Education Officer

"The hardest challenge was coming into the University without a degree, having been told on arrival in 1992 that I wouldn’t have any career in the University because of this. It has been an uphill struggle to overcome this personally and professionally."

Professor Liba Taub

Director and Curator, Whipple Museum of the History of Science

"I am comfortable in male-dominated and female-dominated environments, and enjoy both. Increasingly, my department is becoming more gender-balanced, and that’s comfortable too."

Elizabeth Tilley

Faculty Librarian, Faculty of English

"It has made an enormous difference to my current working life that I love what I do. I don’t think I would have been successful as a teacher because I didn’t enjoy the work enough. I work well in a support-service environment such as a library, precisely because it is a ‘service’."

Dr Dana Tsui

Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute

"I believe teamwork is the key to success. No one can work alone, and working together with people of differing expertise is the best way to combine different talents to achieve the best outcome."

Professor Megan Vaughan

Smuts Professor of Commonwealth History, Faculty of History

"Being the only woman in the room can be extremely dispiriting. You often feel one of two things: either that you’re not being vocal enough in support of female causes, or that you’re being labelled as ‘strident’ for speaking up."

Nathalie Walker

Director of External Affairs, Cambridge Judge Business School

"From only one occasion do I have a horror story, where someone uttered the immortal line, ‘You won’t understand that because you are a woman.’ I found it such a preposterous statement I genuinely just laughed, and many years later it still makes me laugh to think about it."

Professor Alexandra Walsham

Professor of Modern History, Faculty of History

"Compromise and diplomacy are important in leadership roles, but never at the expense of integrity. Stand up for your convictions."

Gillian Weale

Administrative Officer in the Faculty of English

"On a smaller level, one achievement that stands out is being awarded Grade 1 piano with distinction aged about ten years old. I am not very musical, and the result was unexpected. I think the achievement is important because it shows how good teaching and preparation can get amazing results."

Susie White

Deputy Administrator, Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies

"I encourage people to develop themselves and not to be held back by feelings that, first, it’s not their place to develop themselves beyond their prescribed role and second, that it’s something beyond them."

Caryn Wilkinson

Administrator and Office Manager to Professor Patrick Maxwell, Regius Professor of Physic and Head of the School of Clinical Medicine

"Enjoy work and home – and enjoy the satisfaction of doing a good job."

Dr Diana Wood

Director of Medical Education in the Clinical School and Clinical Dean

"Don’t be pushed into making important decisions too quickly – take enough time to think through the consequences and be prepared to compromise on some issues in order to get what you want overall. There is nothing more annoying than someone who tries to make their deadlines into yours."


Professor Sarah Worthington

Downing Professor of the Laws of England; Fellow of Trinity College

"I’ve learnt a lot about the importance of relationships, the value of experiences, the randomness of opportunities and the uselessness of adhering to ‘life plans’ even if the energy and focus they inspire is useful – who’d have thought from the outset that I’d ever be fortunate enough to end up here?"

Dr Laura Wright

Reader in English Language, Faculty of English

"I was unable, biologically, to farm child-raising out to someone else. I needed (and still need) to be home every night to help with homework, cook dinner, get stuff ready for school, hear about the day, help with social problems and so on."

Jocelyn Wyburd

Director, University of Cambridge Language Centre

"One of the points made most often in exercises of this kind is that women are underrepresented in senior roles. It has never occurred to me to feel that I did not deserve to be in a senior role, if I have the ability to fulfil it. I do not know if I am unusual as a woman in this regard."

Professor Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz

Professor of Mammalian Development and Stem Cell Biology, Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience

"When I had children, our eldest turned out to be a girl. My father made the comment that perhaps girls used to have less opportunities but he did not believe that was the case these days, and so he expected the most from me and now from her. I think that this kind of parental expectation and encouragement, sometimes quite forceful, has had much more of an influence upon my life than my own gender."