ALumna OF THE MONTH - November 2018

Penelope phillips-howard (bsc nursing studies, 1978)


Penelope recently attended a nursing reunion at LSBU, she told us the amazing career journey she’s had since graduating and shares with us her biggest regret.

"I was part of the first cohort at LSBU who studied Biological and Social Sciences, linked with Nursing studies and Health visiting. We also worked on the wards at Westminster Hospital to gain our SRN certification. Life at this time was busy as it meant we had back to back courses all day, and had little time for free study. Nursing work was held over quite a bit of the university ‘holiday’ time, so we had to cram in both the degree and the nursing curricula into 4 years. It was intense work!

After graduation I quickly moved into employment as a staff nurse on the wards. However, I missed the learning environment and ongoing training and development, and wanted to gain skills to work internationally, so I went on to do a course in Tropical Disease. From there, my career evolved in a pretty unconventional way.

I worked with Save the Children supporting Vietnamese people being resettled in northern England, then did some midwifery at Oxford, before travelling with family to South America. I actually lived in the Amazon for a while, and then ran a wood factory. After I returned to the UK, I applied for a wide variety of jobs, but managed to get interviewed by Prof David Bradley at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. The job I’d applied for was actually for secretarial work, but he reviewed my already strange CV and offered me a malaria research assistant position. He took a risk with me, and it turned out that it was a perfect environment for me to build my early academic career. From there, I was able to do a malaria PhD, and then progressed to work at the World Health Organization.

I have so many moments of pride in my career, from getting my PhD at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine 10 years after graduating from LSBU, to working at the World Health Organisation in Malaria Control. This work opened my eyes to public health challenges around the world, and motivated me to be involved in so much more.

Naturally I have some regrets. One is that I stopped work completely and took a ‘career break’ for family reasons. Academics get penalised for this, as your past 5 years of research, grants and publications are used for evaluation of positions you apply to. So, at various junctures in my life, I have fallen down the career ladder and taken some time to climb back up to a comparable position – it’s been tough.

I came from a ‘comprehensive school’ background, and started as a nurse, so the world of academics has always been a little scary to me. Instead of doubting myself, which can really hamper ability, I try to do the best possible and hope through endeavour, perseverance, and listening to my own voice of reason I can continue to achieve and contribute work of value. I’m an academic, so getting a grant after continued perseverance, and seeing mine and my colleagues work published and well received continues to be motivational for me.

Most of the work I’m involved in has a societal component, so giving back at community level is a by-product of what I do. Within these activities, I make a point of supporting young academics first starting out by helping them think through their ideas and develop their research. It’s a tough world and I feel life itself is pretty stressful. Much of it is a juggling act, and sometimes you just have to say ‘no’ in order to maintain a healthy work-life balance.

It is great to feel a sense of belonging with LSBU Alumni. I travel a lot for my work, so it’s good to retain my origin and roots.

My advice to current LSBU students is to network widely and try not to burn bridges. Take an interest in wider society and other peoples work as there is always something to learn, and take a long-term view. Also, don’t give up too easily.

If my work enacts change for public health around the world, then that’s career satisfaction for me. I want my legacy to be that I’ve contributed to the health and wellbeing of vulnerable and marginalised populations worldwide."

We feature alumni each month who have made their mark on their chosen field. To nominate someone email

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