Biomedical career profiles


Professor: Dame Carol Robinson

MRC-281021-Carol Robinson

Current job

Director of the Kavli Institute for Nanoscience Discovery and Dr Lee’s Professor of Chemistry at the University of Oxford.

Key quote

My favourite response to the question ‘Has it worked?’ is ‘Not yet.’ If you’ve got a good idea, believe in yourself and believe that it is going to work.

Start of career

1976 (with an eight year career break along the way)

Career in brief

I didn’t take the conventional route to get to where I am today. I left school at 16 and got a job as a lab tech at Pfizer. I was fascinated by mass spectrometry, and my supervisors recognised my passion and encouraged me to do various part-time courses, eventually earning a degree and doing a PhD at the University of Cambridge. I then completed an MRC training Fellowship at the University of Bristol before taking an eight-year career break to look after my children.

During my career break I tried to keep abreast of developments in my area of research. This was before the advent of the internet so involved scanning New Scientist and journals at my local library. This ultimately helped me in successfully applying for a postdoc position at Oxford before becoming a research fellow. There followed professorships at first Cambridge and then Oxford. In 2021 I became the first director of the Kavli Institute for Nanoscience Discovery at Oxford.

How I spend my days

Using mass spectrometry (traditionally the process used to calculate the mass of individual molecules) to look at the structure and interaction of protein complexes, specifically membrane proteins, which regulate the transport of small molecules into and out of cells. I also supervise a team of graduates which is equally as rewarding. I enjoy interacting with people and supporting members of my team in their careers.

Career highlights

Obviously receiving my damehood (for services to science and industry) was a big honour, but so was being made a professor, receiving my first MRC fellowship… And I still get a thrill each time a paper is accepted!

Biggest challenges

Returning to the world of academia after my career break was difficult… Getting up to speed with the advances in science, but probably more so, getting to grips with changes in IT!

My most valuable skills

Creativity and imagination.

What inspires me

My late colleague, Chris Dobson, was a great mentor to me. He gave me the opportunity to get back into research after my career break. He’s always encouraged me to take up the next opportunity, the next challenge. He knew I was ready even if I didn’t!

Find out more

Interview for Life Scientific on BBC Radio 4

Professor Dame Carol Robinson is currently supported by an MRC programme grant.

The Academy of Medical Sciences (AMS) has more information on mentoring. MRC supports the mentoring scheme run by the AMS.

Getting back into research after a career break – guidance published by the Wellcome Trust

Daphne Jackson Trust Fellowships (returning to research after a break of two years or more)

Last updated: 6 July 2022

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