Professor Krina Zondervan

Group Head, Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics

Professor Krina Zondervan loved Biology at school in the Netherlands and in particular was interested in how humans function. She always sought opportunities that challenged her mentally, that allowed her to do what she enjoyed, and where she felt she could contribute to society.

An obvious choice for her therefore was to study Biomedical Sciences as a first degree, at Leiden University in the Netherlands. During this time she was drawn to the field of Epidemiology, as it combined the clinical study of human disease at a population level with the opportunity to ask questions of disease aetiology.  During her degree she visited Oxford on an ERASMUS exchange, based in the Department of Biochemistry for a term, followed by an epidemiological project in the Department of Public Health. This influenced her decision to undertake a DPhil in Epidemiology at the University of Oxford once she had completed her undergraduate studies.

Her DPhil research was on the epidemiology of chronic pelvic pain in women, at the Dept of Public Health and Nuffield Dept of Obstetrics & Gynaecology (NDOG), which led to an interest in endometriosis – a highly prevalent but poorly understood complex disease that causes pelvic pain and reduced fertility. After her DPhil, she was awarded an MRC Training Fellowship in Genetic Epidemiology at the NDM Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics (WTCHG), during which she spent time researching the genetic epidemiology of endometriosis in Australia, Iceland and the US.

In 2008, Krina was awarded a Wellcome Trust Research Career Development fellowship, which enabled her to start her own independent research group focused on endometriosis and associated symptoms at WTCHG. She now holds a permanent position as Professor in Reproductive & Genomic Epidemiology at NDOG,  where she is also co-Director of the Endometriosis CaRe centre, and is based with her group at both NDOG and WTCHG.

“NDM, and in particular the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics, is a hugely stimulating environment for my research. Having a dual affiliation with a clinical department and being at the interface between the clinic and scientific research is also tremendously beneficial, as it maximises direct translational opportunities for my group’s work,” she says.

Krina has twin daughters, currently aged 3. She believes that a science career is suited to combining a career with family life as the flexibility of having independence enables her to organise her career around her family. This means that if necessary she can leave early to collect her children from nursery and then continue working at home in the evening.

“I think that a scientific career can – in the right environment and with the right support – be very suited to combining with a family because of its inherent flexibility. I have found that this flexibility reduces much of the stress of balancing work with family life – as long as the kids are well!”

“Having sufficient support at home is also very important. My husband and I share family responsibilities, which for us is crucial as none of our relatives live close enough to help out.”

“As a woman in science I have found that Athena SWAN has been a positive influence. There now is more openness and debate about identifying obstacles and finding solutions for people’s family circumstances that allows them to have fulfilling academic careers.  I think that Athena SWAN is changing the culture for women and men with caring responsibilities.”