Dr Helen Ougham: ‘retirement’ is just a chance to do more work

To mark the announcement of our 2019 cohort of Fellows, earlier this year we invited some of those elected to reflect on their career to date.

Below, you can find details of one such Fellow.

For some people, ‘retirement’ is just a chance to do more work. Whilst nominally retired, Dr Helen Ougham hasn’t slowed down. In fact, Dr Ougham is still an active researcher and educator and continues to write, edit and review scientific publications.

An expert in plant growth and development, with a particular focus on leaf senescence, Dr Ougham has over 25 years of research experience in plant science and crop bioinformatics at the Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research and at Aberystwyth University.

Throughout her career, Dr Ougham regularly taught on graduate courses in genetics and genomics at the University of Birmingham and in crop science at the Instituto Agronómico Mediterráneo de Zaragoza. Dr Ougham was also a member of BBSRC’s Genes and Developmental Biology Committee and its Tools & Resources Strategy Panel.

Now ‘retired’, Dr Ougham teaches on a module for the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences at Aberystwyth University, is co-editor of New Phytologist, and is an Honorary Research Fellow at East Malling Research. She also volunteers for the Dyfi Osprey Project at the Cors Dyfi Nature Reserve. For the Dyfi Osprey Project, Dr Ougham works as a part of the protection team looking after the ospreys as they incubate their eggs. She also talks to visitors and answers their questions (“if I can!” she adds) at the reserve, is writing a series of blogs on the Dyfi Osprey Project’s website, and is involved in osprey genetics research with colleagues in Aberystwyth University.

Having always been committed to communicating science to non-specialists both in English and Welsh, Dr Ougham is still involved in public engagement with the sciences through her role as an organiser of the Aberystwyth Science Café, which was launched in 2005. The café is a free forum for people to chat about the latest ideas in science and, from the outset, Dr Ougham has been actively involved in its running and success.

Having moved to Wales in 1977 to study for her PhD, Dr Ougham is now Emeritus Reader at Aberystwyth University and, with her a background in genetics, biochemistry and computing, has contributed massively to science in Wales during her more than 40 years here. As an adult, she also learnt Welsh (one of her proudest achievements – alongside being the only woman to win the Times (cryptic) Crossword Championship) and has given lectures in Welsh.

Asked what she wanted to see come out of the world of learning in Wales, Dr Ougham said: “I’d like to see Wales take a lead in addressing the big problems facing the world – climate change, pollution, loss of biodiversity, feeding the planet’s population, addressing the ticking time-bomb of antibiotic resistance… This won’t just need scientists; historians, writers, broadcasters and many others in the world of learning will have parts to play.”

Dr Ougham has said that she is “honoured to be recognized as a contributor to the scientific and cultural landscape of Wales”. We’re delighted to welcome Dr Ougham to our Fellowship, in recognition of those contributions to academia and research in Wales.

Next blog in the series.