I grew up in a large industrial town called Leicester, in central England and like the rest of England, it was subject to a rigid educational system, parts of which are still in existence today. At eleven-years-old we were required to take a big exam which was known as the Eleven Plus. The results from this exam decided very early in our lives who would go on to grammar school and who would go on to a secondary school, where a future at a university was not an option. After studying at a secondary school, a student would go on to working in factories, or as secretaries, or possibly go to one of the professional colleges, etc. The term “college” in the U.K. did not refer to a University. There were very few women that entered the grammar schools and there were only two grammar schools for women in my city. After a few years at grammar school, at around the age of thirteen, we were required to choose the educational track that we wanted to follow, science or the humanities. I chose the science track and at sixteen, completed my O Levels, which examined a student’s proficiency in ten to twelve subjects. Of these, you were required to pick three subjects in which you would continue in the last two years of grammar school. I chose Chemistry, Biology, and Mathematics, the subjects that were required to enter medical school. I thought that I would go into medicine, as that was the obvious choice for a student interested in human biology and looking to enter into a profession.
When it came time to start writing essays, like “Why Do You Want to Be a Doctor,” I wrote about my interest in human-drug interactions. I loved science and biology, but I also loved thinking of how drugs worked in the body, how drugs were created, and the effects that they had on a person’s health. One of my teachers, after critiquing my essay, told me that it seemed as though I was not interested in becoming a physician, as much as I wanted to invent new drugs and study drug delivery. So she suggested I should consider pharmacy, a field in which I would be able to research drugs and also interact with patients. I decided, at eighteen, to study pharmacy, which would provide me with many options and opportunities.
I became a registered pharmacist in England and began a few residencies, my favorite of which was working in a hospital. A former professor that taught me pharmacology as an undergraduate encouraged me to start thinking about a PhD. He had a significant amount of influence on me as he worked with drugs for the heart and I had done a senior project with him in the summer and enjoyed the research aspects very much. He had a project working with skin and how sweat glands worked, which I received my PhD for, and he was very supportive of me as this was not his area of expertise. When I completed my PhD, I wondered if I should go back and practice as a pharmacist or if I should look into other opportunities. I attended a conference in London where a US professor, Dr. Nicolas Bodor, from the University of Florida in Gainesville, recruited me to work on a project concerning drug interactions and skin. His decision to accept me in his lab brought me over to the United States. After working as a post-doc in his lab, it was fairly obvious to at least try for an academic position here.
My mother became ill and I returned to England where I completed another post-doc. After that, I began to apply for academic positions and was accepted at the College of Pharmacy in South Carolina. I read up on South Carolina and Charleston and decided that I might like it there. I spent from February of 1986 right up to September 2000 at the University of South Carolina. Here I encountered one of the greatest challenges in my career as the college did not have a great deal of start-up monies. Going into my first lab as an Assistant Professor, I started with an old refrigerator and virtually no equipment. I applied for large grants right from the beginning, but it was hard to receive grants working in a lab which could provide so little. I borrowed and bought used equipment and by the time I received tenure, that lab was pretty full with both equipment and graduate students.
Around 1998, after I had become established in my field, people started approaching me asking if I would like to move. I had received tenure and was not exactly looking, but was curious as to what was coming in as offers. I came to New Jersey three or four times before I became attracted to the position I am currently in. The attraction was that I was offered a regular faculty position, but would also work doing research in the New Jersey Center for Biomaterials. I spent five years at the UMDNJ Newark and did all my teaching at Rutgers in Pharmacy. In 2005 I moved to Rutgers and to a new Life Sciences building on Busch campus. Now I have students and colleagues in very diverse fields, promoting external collaborations and making things a bit more exciting.
Overall, one of the greatest difficulties in working in pharmacy, and more specifically, in the basic pharmaceutical sciences, was finding women scientists who could provide adequate support and mentorship. Here at Rutgers we are unusual in having three tenured professors including myself in pharmaceutics and many female graduate students.