Professor Belinda Lennox is Head of Department and Honorary Consultant Psychiatrist. Belinda is also the PI for the Early Psychosis Research Group in the Department of Psychiatry.
Tell us a little about yourself, and what attracted you to studying/working at the University of Oxford?
I joined the Department of Psychiatry back in 2012. Taking on the role of Clinical Senior Lecturer alongside my clinical role as a consultant in the Early Intervention in Psychosis service. I later achieved the position of Associate Professor in 2015 and Professor of Psychiatry in 2019.
Before moving to Oxford, I was a HEFCE Clinical Senior Lecturer in Cambridge. Oxford was where the research collaborators that I wanted to work with were based, namely Angela Vincent, Emeritus Professor of Neuroimmunology. It was quite literally the best place in the world for my area of research in psychiatry – exploring the neuroimmunological basis of mental illness, and I believe it continues to be so.
What is your vision for the team/project/research you study/work with?
Fundamentally I believe the role of our department is to make rapid and dramatic advances in the prevention and treatment of mental illness.
We do this by continuing to support and develop our broad range of research areas and expertise - from molecule to man and from early childhood right through to old age. We continue to work closely with our NHS partners and with a wide range of international collaborators, bringing research and clinical practice closer together. An incredible exemplar of this is the recent COVID-19 clinical trials, led by Oxford and delivered across the country. We were able to make incredible advances in the fight and protection against the disease because the research was implemented into a standard of care within the health service and beyond, and this is my ambition for mental health. To achieve this, we must continue to research and discover new technologies and new medicines, to investigate broader societal interventions, and to maximise and amplify both our funding and impact.
What is currently at the top of your To-Do List?
At the very top is people – I want to properly analyse the results of our department’s staff and student experience surveys. I’d like to focus on the culture of the department and ensure that everyone feels valued, welcomed and most importantly included. I’d like to ensure that we’re celebrating our differences and making the most of the diverse people, skills and ideas that we have. I believe the department can be one of the best places to work and that means looking after our people is a top priority.
The exciting re-development of the Warneford site is also very important and planning decisions should be taking place soon. Our academic department is a major part of this and the potential is huge.
More immediately our planned return to onsite working is underway and I’d like our ability to collaborate and innovate in person to be established as soon as possible. Concentrating on major bids for funding remains very important for us all.
How did you get to where you are today?
At medical school I wanted to be an academic psychiatrist and although I have been on rather a convoluted route, including working part-time for a decade while combining clinical training and bringing up children, I have never changed in that ambition. Persistence, and perhaps a bit of stubbornness helps, even after failing in fellowship applications and grant applications, you have to keep going.
I have taken opportunities as they have arisen, taking on leadership positions that have given me amazing opportunities to broaden my awareness of clinical research, for example, being Clinical Director for the NIHR Local Clinical Research Network for the last 7 years.
I’ve also found incredible support with mentors, such as Professor Peter Jones and Professor Ed Bullmore in Cambridge, and Professor John Geddes here in Oxford.
Who or what inspires you?
Dame Fiona Caldicott was a truly inspirational psychiatrist with amazing leadership skills, she was thoughtful, smart, and had a wonderful ability to focus on what was important.
I am also inspired every day by people living with severe mental illness, and their families. This is what gives me a real sense of urgency to get on with the research and make a difference.
If you were not in your study programme/job currently, what would you like to be doing?
Of course, I feel that I now have the best job in the world and there is nothing else I’d rather be doing. However, if given different circumstances, I’d rather like to be running a coffee shop with really good cake. And/or following the England cricket team around the world!