Women Leaders Insight Series: Sharon Peacock

Sharon Peacock is a professor of clinical microbiology at LSHTM, and also on the steering committee for WLGH.

In this 'Women Leaders: Insights' series, Prof. Peacock discusses her career, inspirations, the WLGH Conference, and gives advice to women embarking on their career.

Describe your current role?
My current role is Professor of Clinical Microbiology, which involves the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of infectious diseases both in the community and in hospitals.

Who has inspired you throughout your career?
There are numerous people who have inspired me throughout my career and I fear that I have missed many important people out but my first real inspiration came in the form of Dr Douglas Chamberlain. He was a cardiologist in Brighton when I was a junior doctor and what inspired me was his complete dedication, his clinical brilliance and his real commitment to patients.

He encouraged me to move to Oxford for further training and there I was really inspired by Professor Sir David Weatherall. He managed to easily combine patient care with research to the very highest standard and he inspired me and many other people to go into academic research.

In the last ten years, I have been particularly inspired by two of my colleagues at the Sanger Institute – Professor Gordon Dougan and Professor Julian Parkhill, who have been huge supporters of my work.

What is the best piece of advice you have received from a mentor?
In terms of my own mentorship there hasn’t been a single strong mentor but I have used a slightly different model where I’ve tried to surround myself by people who are willing and able to support me, both overtly and in public but also behind closed doors - suggesting me for membership on panels, speaking at meetings and also for jobs.

What has been your career highlight?
There is no doubt that my career highlight was gaining a place at university. I went to a school where everybody left at 16 and got a job – I was no different from that. I was the first person in my extended family to go to university when I gained a place at 23 but that was not necessarily a straightforward journey. I applied several times to university after doing A Levels later on and I was rejected.

My husband was hugely encouraging and got me to pick up the phone to Southampton University and they were kind enough to give me an interview. Professor David Wilton gave me an interview and decided to take a risk on me. I’ve never looked back.

What challenges have you faced in your career and how did you overcome them? 
I have faced several challenges in my career. The first has been juggling life as a mother and a wife with my work. I have three children who are now aged 22, 22 and 16 and even though they need me less now, I still want to spend as much time with them as possible.

Another challenge undoubtedly throughout my career has been working in a male-dominated environment such as being asked to chair a committee or be on a panel, which is male dominated. When I was younger, this was very challenging and I would find myself quaking in my boots sometimes as I approached that task. Whilst I have moved on from that, I am always mindful of the importance of equality and diversity and the fact that we still have a great deal to do.

What do you see as the greatest challenge in global health? 
From my perspective, the greatest challenge to global health is education of everyone, particularly women and also access to universal contraception.

How important is the Women Leaders in Global Health Conference? 
For me, this 2018 meeting on Women Leaders in Global Health is an incredibly important and critical voice but it is also important for us to bear in mind that we must get beyond meetings and talks and get to a path where we can take some action.

In three words, what advice would you give to women embarking on their careers? 
Why not you?

Naomi Stewart