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Saturday, 28 February 2009

Britain's Most Famous Lady Scientist is also Rather Funky

Susan Greenfield, the UK's most famous lady scientist, was a fun interview - I'm previewing here as the full text will be published later in the year. I was meeting the Professor of Synaptic Pharmacology at Oxford and Director of the Royal Institution of Great Britain at her comfortable office in the stunning building that she has had redesigned in Mayfair.

She works these two jobs carefully with two PAs, one in London, one in Oxford, who handle her diary and are in constant communication. For my interview I was looking at how she manages running her different jobs, being twin-sited, and how she got started. In addition, of course, Susan is Baroness Greenfield, a Peer of the realm, and though she is pleased to have the peerage amongst the many, many honours she has had heaped upon her, she very much gave me the impression that what drives her are her day jobs, so to speak. She gave me access to her diary and her timetable, talking me through the various activites she is involved in.

Baroness Greenfield is a cutting-edge neuroscientist and populariser of science, leading the way on research into Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. She talks quickly and doesn't waste a second, even using my set up time when I was testing my equipment to run back to her desk and answer three emails.

What I wasn't expecting was her outright funkiness the day I interviewed her; tweed brown shorts, red-hued tights, brown leather ankle boots and a thick top in a warm toning colour. She makes science sexy but she is also deeply fashionable!

One of the refreshing things about Baroness Greenfield is that she says that little more than motivation and passion are required to pursue your dreams, and prides herself on the fact that she has no science A levels. She is a pre-eminent global scientist.

I always find with CEOs that they get up very early and this one is no exception; she regularly gets up by 6am to be in her lab or her office by 7-7.30am as she says that she finds she can get more done that way. She also tells me that she has a low boredom threshold and only some of the dinner parties she attends hold her interest; she prefers to be in bed with a book by 10pm!

Also, she talks of serendipity; how chance encounters can lead to success and fortune. She quotes her own life as an example. And the Professor is helpful; no airs and graces, very down to earth, looks you in the eye and gives you her full concentration. It's very early days yet, only February, but she is going to be hard to beat as my Interview of the Year 2009.

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