Master of Churchill, Professor Dame Athene Donald, recently travelled to New York and Toronto, accompanied by Development Director Fran Malarée. The trip afforded opportunities to meet Churchill alumni and participate in two excellent events.

On 16 September, Dame Athene attended a drinks reception and talk in New York hosted by Cambridge in America on leadership and women in science with Churchill alumna Dr Elizabeth O’Day (U06). Attended by 30 alumni and friends, the conversation focused on Dr O’Day’s career journey and her observations in the field as a leader and woman in science.

In addition to her roles as CEO of Olaris Therapeutics, founder of Lizzard Fashion, and founder of two non-profit organisations, Dr O’Day is the co-chair of the World Economic Forum’s Global Future Council on Biotechnology, and as a ‘nominated change maker’, she was invited to the first United State of Women Summit convened by the White House. During the conversation, Dr O’Day shared her personal story of wishing to cure cancer as a direct result of her brother’s own childhood battle with the disease (and now complete remission), ultimately leading her to found Olaris Therapeutics, a precision medicine company that identifies ‘biomarkers of response’ (BoR) to stratify patients into optimal treatment groups, increasing survival rates, decreasing adverse events, and reducing unnecessary healthcare costs.

The conversation also covered gender imbalance in science practioners, and Dr. O’Day said quite simply that science is sometimes presented as a masculine pursuit, and a field that may be seen as boring, but that in her experience, nothing could be further from the truth, and the growing numbers of women in the field is encouraging.

The second event was at the University Club of Toronto for Churchill alumni in the area. The Master and alumnus Bruce Simpson (U80) of McKinsey Canada discussed the challenges of leadership. Bruce spoke about the global trends currently challenging corporate and institutional leaders, as well as governmental actors, and identified several traits that leaders needed to exhibit in order to manage these challenges, including the ability to be agile and work across several different sectors, public, private, NGO.

Dame Athene spoke about the challenges faced by some world leaders and how some lessons from the past might inform the leaders of today. The challenges of climate change, for example, were spotted early on by Margaret Thatcher, whose papers are in the College’s archives: as a scientist, she saw early on how human action would influence the atmosphere. There were other salutary lessons from the archives and Winston Churchill’s own wartime leadership. His belief in scientific progress was also far-sighted for a leader of his (Victorian) generation. Both speakers also mentioned the challenges faced by women leaders.

There followed a lively question and answer session after the talk around themes of leadership.

The Master also enjoyed meeting alumni at an informal brunch organised by alumna Kit Cheung (G00) in order to overlap with her visit to New York. Kit organises brunches for Churchillians in the NY/NJ/PA states to meet a few times a year and would be pleased to add any alumni to her email list would would be interested in going along to such occasions in the future. Do email the Alumni Office if this would be of interest and we will pass your email address to Kit.