Interviews with successful 2e Scientists

Professor Dame Sally Davies interview with Professor Sara Rankin.  
22nd Oct 2018

Professor Dame Sally Davies Biography– from and wikipedia

Professor Dame Sally Davies, studied medicine at Manchester University and then became a consultant haematologist (study of blood) in 1985. Her research focussed on Sickle cell disease, a blood disorder common in people of African Heritage.  She moved into policy in 2004 when she joined the civil service, soon being promoted to Director General of Research and Development for the NHS in the Department of Health.  She was then appointed as the Chief Scientific Adviser (CSA) for the Department of Health (DH) and founded the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).  She was a member of the World Health Organisation (WHO) Executive Board 2014–2016.

Dame Sally Davies is currently Chief Medical Officer for England (the first woman to hold this position) and Chief Medical Advisor to the UK Government.

Dame Sally received a DBE in 2009.  She was elected Fellow of the Royal Society in 2014 and a member of the National Academy of Medicine, USA in 2015.

Have you ever formally been tested for dyslexia? – No.

What makes you think you might be dyslexic?

A neurologist asked me after I gave a presentation whether I was dyslexic because I had inverted letters and misspelt words when writing on the white board.

Looking back, I had difficulty learning my alphabet and multiplication tables and then went on to fail my 11 plus.  I did not do well in my GCSEs, but then excelled in my A levels.  Both my daughters had similar problems in primary school.

How did it affect you in school and higher education?

Teachers thought I was rather dim, which probably motivated me to work harder.

Do you think in still impacts any aspect of your working life?

I am very bad at remembering names and faces – this is a big problem in my job, because I meet a lot of people which is embarrassing.  My team supports me and remind me.

On reflection do you think you have developed any strategies to support your dyslexic weaknesses?

I find that writing things down and taking notes helps me remember, I have a lot of to–do lists.  If I think something is important I will act on it straight away, before I forget it – this has served me well as it makes me look super–efficient. I’ve actually got good at skim reading and pulling out the most important information.

Do you know about dyslexic strengths, what some people refer to as the gift of dyslexia or the dyslexic advantage?

No – but when I (Prof Rankin) mentioned them (creativity, big picture thinking, being visionary, thinking outside the box and problem solving, oral communication skills, and good collaboration skills) Sally said – “Yes, absolutely! I have all of these, but I never knew they were anything to do with my dyslexia”.

Actually, when I was trying to write a research paper as a medical student one of my Professors noted “You give great presentations about your work, but it doesn’t make sense when you write it down.  Why don’t you try to make your research paper into an oral presentation then write it down afterwards” – that was transformative – because I found it easy to create a story/narrative of my work orally and it made writing much easier for me.  Prof Rankin – “that’s great advice – I’m going to try that with my dyslexic students”.

What do you think are your dyslexic strengths and how have you harnessed them to do your job?

Given that I now know what they are I would say -in every aspect of what I do, I am visionary, I am an excellent problem solver and a strategic innovative thinker and definitely need to be a great communicator. I’ve always worked collaboratively.

Do you think there is anything we should change in the education system to either support pupils with dyslexia or assess them in different ways?

What really makes me angry is that many children are not assessed for dyslexia in schools, it should be routine.  It is really important that children have a diagnosis at an early stage in their education, such that they can be effectively supported.

So what did Dame Sally and I have in common? – well neither of us can remember names or faces – which can be very embarrassing and we both have a knack for being able to quickly read and enjoy a novel on holiday and then completely forget the characters and plot within a matter of weeks – so we save a lot of money on books – because we can keep reading the same ones over again!  I find that interesting, because for all things scientific my memory is like an elephants’, my brain is obviously very good at deciding what is important to remember or not – no space for trivia in my brain!