Women’s History Month Profiles – Prof. Michele Barbour

To celebrate Women’s History Month, Naomi Douglas and Chloe Poole (UBDSS), in collaboration with the ED&I Committee, asked some of our female staff to reflect on their careers, achievements, inspirations, and challenges they’ve overcome. This is just a small portion of the inspiring women that we work with at Bristol Dental School.

The next in our series is Professor Michele Barbour.

What advice would you give your dental student/younger self?
You don’t have to have every last detail of your life mapped out – sometimes it’s ok to take things as they come – follow your interests and see where they take you…
…that said, making clothes out of old duvet covers and curtains you buy from charity shops and selling them is probably not a sustainable career option (see photo)

What’s the greatest achievement of your career so far?
I won the student-selected faculty teaching prize a couple of years ago. I was shortlisted alongside staff from the medical school, and when you bear in mind how tiny our school is compared to the medical school and therefore how many more students were voting from medicine than dentistry I couldn’t believe it – I thought I was going to faint when I had to walk up onto the stage to collect the prize. The award sits on my mantlepiece so I can see it every day.

Which women have inspired you in your career?
My Grandma. For most of her life she was a home maker and a part time assistant in a bakery, but during world war two she was involved in computing and code breaking – although she would never talk about the details, family legend has it she worked at Bletchley Park! She had a sharp intellect and was a bit of a maths genius, but she was also warm, caring and generous.
Also one of my students and personal tutees, Kerrie. Kerrie was a mature student with two young children when she applied to the BDS – I remember interviewing her myself. She spoke with such passion and emotion about building a life for her and her children through a professional career that my co-interviewer and I had to fight back tears! To enter into a degree while taking care of two little ones might have been hard enough, but during her degree Kerrie overcame all kinds of adversity – a whole series of personal challenges – and had two further children and the associated maternity leave. Throughout this she never wavered in her commitments – to her family, to her studies, to her patients and her friends. She bounced back from every single challenge and worked extraordinarily hard under incredibly pressured circumstances – she inspired me with her determination and dedication but also her warmth and her generosity.
I’ve always felt that whatever you achieve in your career it should never be at the expense of being kind, being a good person. My Grandma and Kerrie are wonderful examples of this.

What have been the biggest challenges or triumphs for you during the pandemic? (at work or personally)
Challenges – plenty! As a non-clinician I have spent the vast majority of the past year working at home, and I’m really fed up with it – I miss the interactions with other people in real life, as opposed to via a screen, but since most of my work can be done remotely I’m obliged to work from home most of the time. I hope it doesn’t last much longer – I have some face to face teaching coming up soon in CSL and I can’t wait! Home schooling has been tough, it was such a relief when the schools reconvened – not just the education but the social side of school, it’s so important for children to be able to mix with other children. And I miss the socialising outside of work too – I miss spending time with my parents and my friends. Triumphs – after a 20 year break I have taken up running again. I can’t claim to be very good! But it’s nice to pick up a hobby that I haven’t done for so long and find I still enjoy it.

If you’d like to contribute to this blog series, simply email your answers (and an image of yourself) to ords-swan@bristol.ac.uk.

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