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News > Old Girls' Association > The Art of Science

The Art of Science

These days you are just as likely to find Vivienne Parry (Mills) HA 1974 in a recording studio as you might at a conference in Saudi Arabia. So what led her to this intriguing lifestyle?...

Interviewed for OGA Chain 2019 magazine

After Vivienne left St Swithun’s, she went to study zoology at university.  Her degree included many different topics, including animal behaviour, immunology and genetics. This love for biology was ignited by Miss Bevan her former St Swithun’s science teacher and despite a terrible reputation for breaking equipment in practicals, Vivienne excelled in this field. 

Her first job took her to the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists where she worked for a mother and baby charity, researching, organising events and working alongside their patron, HRH the Princess of Wales, for 12 years.

However, despite this flair for science and medicine, Vivienne, who had never lost her love of writing since her school days, decided she would like to move into the world of TV presenting. She applied for a job to present a science and technology programme and despite not having a show reel ready for the interview, she successfully landed the role of presenter on the flagship BBC programme Tomorrow’s World, pipping 4000 other applicants to the post.

Vivienne recalled her teachers at St Swithun’s always felt her talents lay in the arts whilst she thought they lay in science. Now the two worlds had finally come together and she was doing both. 

This wonderful opportunity soon led to many others and Vivienne found herself writing science articles for newspapers such as The Times and The Guardian. At one point, she was the only person to be simultaneously published in both The Journal of Molecular Biology and
The News of World. 

Not all her time was spent in the UK though and Vivienne was also asked to present and facilitate at medical and scientific conferences across the globe.  Only last week she was in China and next week she travels to Switzerland.

This suits Vivienne down to the ground as, in her own words, she is a ‘portfolio person,’ that is to say someone with insatiable curiosity who always has lots of different things going on at the same time.

Something that completely enthuses her is her current role working on the 100,000 Genomes Project. This project was established in 2013, to sequence 100,000 human genomes (a genome is the complete set of genetic material in a cell) from NHS patients suffering
from cancer or a rare disease. One of its main aims was to create a genomic medicine service for the NHS, i.e. a health service able to provide tailored medical treatments for individual patients dependent on their unique genetic make-up.

As the Head of Engagement at Genomic England, Vivienne is tasked with important responsibilities such as:

■ Bridging the gap between how professionals talk about genomics and how patients talk about and understand it,

■ Increasing transparency within the industry and building public trust,

■ Obtaining stakeholder buy-in (from patients) regarding the use of their data for research and commercial purposes.

It is an ethical minefield, yet one worth navigating when you realise that the result of such pioneering work will be a more successful, efficient and costeffective treatment for patients. 

Even though there is still much research to be done, what once was the stuff of science fiction novels is now steadily becoming mainstream medicine thanks to the incredible efforts of people like Vivienne.

Vivienne hopes to share more of her experiences by coming to talk at St Swithun’s in Autumn 2020. Please check the OGA Network for event details. 

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Old Girls' Association
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