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The University of Southampton
Doctoral College

Dear Diana,

Prelude: I was 17 years and four months when I started medical school – I never took a gap year, I slightly regret that because 40 years later I still have never taken a gap year and only 1 year in total to have three children. I think not taking more time out might be one of the few regrets I have but it is a minor one, I have enjoyed almost every stage of my career, even the really difficult jobs. MB ChB Manchester, clinical training then research fellowship in Edinburgh, a post-doc research job in Southampton, clinical training completion and an NHS consultant job with continuing academic focus. l have held both NHS clinical and academic leadership roles over the last 15 years and I just been appointed as Dean of the Faculty of Medicine which would have greatly surprised my younger self. Had I known, I may have aimed for it much more directly but I bet I wouldn't have had so interesting, rewarding or varied a working life..

Dear Diana,

Don’t be in such a hurry! Know your plan A, but always be ready to seriously consider plan B or even C. You make your own luck to some extent but some opportunities take you by surprise and might take you off course, be flexible, it is more fun. 

There are plenty of people you will come across who you admire or aspire to be like for lots of reasons. Don't be afraid to ask for advice – you don't have to take it. If you are having trouble deciding what you want to do with your career, seek out a mentor (may be formal or informal, possibly more than one). Listen to advice, take it away, distil and decide.

Believe in yourself, don't limit your choices, don't listen to that colleague who says “You are just a token outsider and a token female” whilst you prepare for your interview in Edinburgh – he’s just jealous.

Lighten up, don't take yourself too seriously, value your friends and family properly, make time for positive down-time into (physical activity, book club, films or concerts). Don't get into the habit of daily alcohol, it doesn't give good quality sleep. You will work more efficiently – and remember there are only so many hours in the day but sometimes, just occasionally, you may have to pull out every single stop to deliver. Take time to celebrate success.

Finally don't agonise too much about when to have children – they don't always come on demand! My top tips for happy parents and happy children is to accept that most of what you earn is spent on great childcare, be prepared to share them with other responsible adults, they always love their parents best, don't feel guilty if you enjoy work, they will be happiest if you are happy.

Best wishes,


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