MA Physiological Sciences 1993-96, MSc in Neuroscience 1996-97, DPhil in Neuroscience 1997-2001
Dr Nicole Mather DPhil first joined the Department through undertaking the Physiological Sciences and Philosophy branches of the Oxford undergraduate PPP course in 1993, deciding after two terms to focus and coming away with an MA in Physiology Sciences in 1996. She then became part of the first cohort of the Wellcome Trust MSc four- year studentships in Neuroscience. During her taught course year, she undertook one project investigating auditory mapping in ferrets in the Department of Physiology and another with Professor Jeremy Taylor in the Department of Human Anatomy. She went onto do her full DPhil with Professor Taylor from 1997 – 2001, studying the development of the corticospinal nerves to ascertain why they cross in a different manner to other nerves in the body, far away from their origin. Encouraged by Professor Taylor, Dr Mather attended a wide range of prestigious conferences, including global Neuroscience conferences in Los Angeles, Miami and New Orleans, courses at the Cold Springs Harbour lab and near lake Como in Italy and in collaborating with EMBL Heidelberg. supporting publications with colleagues in Germany and in London. She also organised the lunchtime lecture series in the Department as well as running the New College Ball and Boat Club.
After completing her DPhil, Dr Mather became a management consultant for the next 16 years, working at AT Kearney, and later, Deloitte. She remained firmly rooted in the scientific world, focusing on the pharmaceutical and healthcare industries, building relationships using her research credibility to advise on the development, manufacture and pricing of medicines, the latter involving working closely with government. In 2014, she was seconded into government to set up the Office for Life Sciences to champion UK research and innovation in the life sciences, working closely with No10 and the global leaders in pharmaceutical R&D. She led the government team responsible for delivering the flagship Life Sciences Industrial Strategy, securing around a £3 billion investment and working closely with the Oxford Regius Professor Sir John Bell to roll it out. Together they secured investments in genomics, health data and vaccine manufacturing, among others, that have been critical for the UK’s response to COVID.
From 2019, Dr Mather has held three positions. She Is a Partner at IBM, where she has been instrumental in bringing IBM’s innovative technology into the life sciences sector. She is a Non Executive Director of the Health Research Authority, where she’s involved in supporting the ethical review of clinical trials,helping to create a streamlined system to facilitate the process of ethical approval for research. She is also Non Executive Director of the Wellcome Sanger Institute GRL, namely the Cambridge campus, which is poised to triple in size. As part of the latter, she works regularly with fellow Board member Professor Kay Davies, whom she’d first met during her DPhil, where they collaborate on the COVID-19 subcommittee as part as ongoing efforts by the Sanger to sequence new COVID-19 variants. According to Dr Mather: “Whenever I tell the story about my career, I say I started by doing a DPhil in Kay’s department in Oxford.”
Reflecting on her DPhil, Dr Mather is clear on the value of its transferable skills “A PhD is a badge of determination – you need to be independent and goal-driven. But it is also very like management consulting: you need to assimilate information, understand it, get the evidence to defend your argument, set it out in a logical way and explain it in a compelling way. The basics of being able to structure and communicate your argument is exactly the same as in business.” Being able to combine her ability to comfortably read and digest scientific papers and then add commercial skills to her original scientific skills, helped her to play the role she did, and secure a great deal of investment for UK science.