Celebrating women in science

To celebrate International Women’s Day and British Science Week, few of our SSM honorary members and leading women in science share their memories and thoughts on choosing a career in social medicine and how SSM influenced their career path.

Interview with honorary member Elizabeth Russell

Elizabeth was Professor of Social Medicine at the University of Aberdeen undownloadtil 2001 and, over two decades played a leading role in the development of public health and health services research. She was responsible for the establishment of the University’s Health Economics Research Unit and was its first Director in 1973.

When did first join the SSM?

I think I joined in the 1970s when our Department of Social Medicine in Aberdeen hosted an ASM, and that was probably the first I attended. (I had a photo somewhere of the attendees and will try to find it!) Over the next two decades I attended as many as possible but it became increasingly difficult because of local teaching timetables etc. and I didn’t ever become part of the organisational side of SSM.

Has SSM influenced your career?

Not career per se (apart from having been very proud to have a chair of Social Medicine and holding on to the name until I retired in 2001), but my research undoubtedly, because of the very best thing about it, its multidisciplinarity and freedom to hear and explore ideas that would never otherwise have reached us in Aberdeen. I can’t quote chapter and verse right now, but several research collaborations and new lines of exploration arose as a result of an ASM. I listened to a discussion about the new Crick Institute, and I don’t think it’s fanciful to say that SSM in my day did the same productive bringing together of ideas and people as they are now aiming for again.

Do you have any particular memories of your first few ASMs?

In sum, my favourite thing is/was/and I hope will remain its cross-disciplinary magic.

Interview with SSM President Hazel Inskip

Hazel is Professor of Statistical Epidemiology and Deputy Director of the MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit of Medicine at the University of Southampton. She leads a programme of research within the MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit “Development, Body Composition and Health”. Her main focus in recent years has been running the Southampton Women’s Survey (SWS) and coordinating some of the resulting intervention studies that are now on-going.

When and where did you start your first job in ‘social medicine’ research?

In 1979, I started work at the London School of Hygiene in the Epidemiological Monitoring Unit (EMU) in the Department of Epidemiology.

ECR Hazel

SSM President Hazel Inskip, here as an ECR with colleagues in Gambia

Which aspects of social medicine do you enjoy most?


The really exciting bit is finding out things that we can then try to do something about. Using epidemiology to identify modifiable risk factors and then developing interventions is something I find really exciting.

Which aspects of social medicine research do you find the most challenging?

The problem of confounding. It is a real challenge in observational research, and dealing with it is far from straightforward.

Who would you say has positively influenced you the most during your career?

This is such a tough question as there have been so many. I have been so blessed in the support I’ve had from wonderful role models. But I suppose it is the two people who spotted me when I was doing my MSc and gave me a job who really launched my career. They were Valerie Beral and Patricia Fraser.

What one thing do you wish you knew when you started out?

That I shouldn’t be intimidated by professors!

How do you think `social medicine’ research has changed over time?

When I started out, the entire focus seemed to be on cancer and cardiovascular disease, with interest in infectious diseases in the tropics. It is so much broader now and we recognise the multi-factorial nature of disease and exposures.

When did you first join the SSM? 

I think I joined in 1980 having been encouraged to do so by Valerie and Pat. Has SSM influenced your research or career in any way, and if so how? For me, SSM has been the conference I’ve enjoyed the most of all that I’ve attended. It’s provided me with an opportunity to keep in touch with those in a similar field in this country and enabled me to know what’s going on.

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