Graduate Careers: How I Got Here - Lord Robert Winston: `I Suppose I've Been Very Lucky' ; LORD ROBERT WINSTON, PROFESSOR OF FERTILITY STUDIES AT IMPERIAL COLLEGE'S SCHOOL OF MEDICINE

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Lord Robert Winston is one of the country's leading authorities on reproductive medicine. He is Professor of Fertility Studies at the Imperial College School of Medicine and chief of service for the Department of Reproductive Medicine at Hammersmith Hospital, as well as consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist there. He developed gynaecological microsurgery in the 1970s, undertaking the first human tubal transplant, and he founded the National Health Service's in vitro fertilisation (IVF) programme in 1981. He is also well known as a TV presenter on medical programmes. The latest is BBC1's Child of our Time. He lives in north London with his wife and three children.

Education and background

I was originally educated at a little primary school in north London that had a bright red uniform, and for that reason I became an Arsenal supporter from the age of six. After that, I went to St Paul's prep school and then got a scholarship to go to St Paul's School.

I'd say I was a pretty average student for a scholarship boy: I didn't exactly work too hard. I did well in my first and last years when the chips were down, and I really had to do something.

After St Paul's, I was all lined up to read Natural Sciences at Cambridge, but decided at the last minute it wasn't for me and switched to do medicine at the medical college in London University. I graduated in 1964 and then embarked on a further four years of training.

First steps

After that time, I gave it up because I didn't like the authoritarian style of teaching, and went into theatre directing. I really enjoyed making a go of it there, but after a while decided that I wanted to challenge myself more, and went into academic medicine. It was difficult getting back into teaching because I was now coming from the arts, and that was not well received by my seniors. I was very lucky, however, to be given a two-month post by a professor who took pity on me. I think he gave it to me because, although he wasn't arty, his son played with the London Philharmonic, and he felt he should promote people who were a bit different.

When this was up, I got a Medical Research Council research grant. I never would have been awarded it nowadays: it was completely hair-brained. I had no justification for getting it: I hadn't ever published anything; I had absolutely no expertise in the field I wanted to study, and the institution I was with had a bad record in that area. On top of all that, my idea seemed really screwy: to employ microsurgery to improve the surgical treatment of infertility. It was extremely unusual, but now has turned out to be a hot topic - it's led to 50 or 60 scientific publications.

I just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time when someone took pity on me. The research gave me a bit of a track record, and led to a couple of other things which helped me on my way. …