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Professor Dame Athene Donald

My research

I work in soft matter physics, particularly at the interface with biology. This has included polymer and colloid research, development of Environmental Scanning Electron Microscopy, starch and currently protein aggregation and cellular biophysics.

My journey

I met my husband, a mathematician, during my PhD. At that point I had no intention of staying in academia. We got married at the end of my second year and decided to go the USA (Cornell) where I got a two year postdoc position  and Matthew started a PhD.  At the end of my first postdoc I swapped from working on metals to polymers for a second postdoc so that I could stay in the USA whilst Matthew finished his PhD and it was during this period that I finally got hooked on an academic career. We returned to Cambridge where Matthew had a college fellowship and I also got a fellowship in the Materials department. After our second child was born Matthew's funding dried up and it became logical for him to become the primary carer. There was no flexible or part -time working available then, but I worked very flexibly - academia is good for that - and restricted my travel to only three nights away a year.   Over the years I rose through the hierarchy, becoming a professor in 1998 and an FRS in 1999. I never really got back in the swing of doing much travelling, but my work in soft matter physics thrived and at the Cavendish we slowly built up a large group. In time I became deputy head of department and, from 2010 both the Royal Society's Education Committee chair and the University's Gender Equality Champion. These two roles reduced my time on research. I have always done significant committee work, which I believe is an important part of being a senior scientist. My second child left home and went to university in 2006. Now my caring responsibilities are for my elderly mother, who lives in London. Since 2014 I have been Master of Churchill College. I also write a significant amount on my own personal blog and in the print media.

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