Judy (physiology): my science career

When I graduated with a degree in Physiology at University College London in 1971 I couldn’t decide whether to apply for a PGCE, in preparation for a career in school teaching, or sign up for a PhD.  The PhD won out and was the first step on the ladder of an academic career.  After my husband and I moved to Bristol in 1977, I enjoyed around 25 years combining teaching undergraduates with researching how the central nervous system controls movement.  I worked in a busy, lab-based research group and, with my collaborators, was funded by the Medical Research Council and the Wellcome Trust throughout that time.  Our two children were born around 1980 and I then worked part-time until they were both settled in primary school.

By the late 1990s, I was finding that the educational side of my role was giving me more satisfaction and a greater sense of purpose than my bench research.  My then Head of Department was open to me changing career track (a very rare move in those days) and I’ve focused on undergraduate teaching and educational development/leadership since around 2000 – a decision that I’ve never regretted.

Career highlights
I was delighted when the University’s bid to host a medical sciences Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning was successful in 2005 and I was appointed as one of its two Co-directors.  For the next 6 years I led a range of projects developing innovative ways of teaching medical sciences, particularly lab-based teaching, several of which have been adopted by other universities.

For the last 10 years I’ve also contributed to educational activities and debate at a national level through The Physiological Society. This has included speaking at events and editing publications aimed at increasing recognition of achievements in teaching and educational scholarship in career progression in Universities.

My career has panned out in ways that I never expected in those heady postgraduate years but it has been, and continues to be, hugely satisfying.



PhD, University College London (UCL); married my husband, Reg


Postdoctoral researcher, UCL


Lectureship, University of Bristol


Our son was born


Our daughter was born


Promoted to Senior Lecturer in Physiology


Transferred to a teaching-focused career track


Appointed as Departmental Director of Teaching; appointed as Deputy Head of Department two years later


Appointed as Co-director of the University of Bristol’s Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning in medical sciences


Promoted to Professor on the basis of teaching and educational leadership


Elected as a trustee on the Council of The Physiological Society and Deputy Chair of its Education & Outreach Committee


Recognised as a ‘Teacher Scientist’ in the Science Council List of 100 Leading Practising Scientists


Elected Honorary Member of The Physiological Society - only eight women (around 10% of the total) have been afforded this honour in the 140 year history of the Society.

Judy Harris
Professor Judy Harris

Other experiences

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