Departmental Demonstrator (1949-84)
© Photo taken by Deborah Elliott, reproduced by courtesy of Somerville College, Oxford.Jean Banister came to the Laboratory of Physiology in 1949, having taken up the study of Physiology during the Second World War. She originally embarked on a musical career and attended the Royal Academy of Music, achieving a silver medal in the flute, but it is believed the chance events of World War II prompted her to switch to medical science. She joined the Polish School of Medicine when it moved to Edinburgh after the German invasion of Poland in September 1939, gaining an honours degree in physiology in Edinburgh in 1948. She became the first woman to be appointed Departmental Demonstrator at Laboratory of Physiology in 1949 and was appointed Tutorial Fellow at Somerville College in 1951. She was considered a driving force in both departmental and college teaching and University affairs, and was one of the first to represent the former women’s colleges on the main university Committees. She directed an active laboratory, focusing on the vascular system in the lungs. Her research interests included the pulmonary circulation and the amphibian carotid sinuses. She was notably one of the last to give live physiology demonstrations during lectures. She also lectured abroad, notably in Japan at Fukushima Medical College, where one of her graduate students, Junko Kimura, later became Head of the Pharmacology Department.
Having served twice as Vice-Principal of Somervile (1969-72 and 1979-81), she retired from her Tutorial Fellowship in 1984 and went to lecture in Saudi Arabia to inspire women medical students. She is fondly remembered by former graduate student Hilary Brown as “always a keen supporter of women in physiology.” At Jean’s retirement ceremony, the former Principal of Somerville, Daphne Park, summed her up: “She has absolute integrity and she is a perfectionist; she is also an optimist”. Messages from those who could not attend reveal how she inspired: “Jean taught us the framework for evidence-based practice more than 20 years before the term ‘evidence-based medicine’ was first used.”
The Physiological Society now award a Prize Lecture in Jean's honour to early career physiologists. Read more about the R Jean Banister Prize Lecture.