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Alumni Voices: 'it's never too late to start a PhD' - Professor Brian Godman

Professor Brian Godman (Pharmacology, 1975) came to King’s at a time of great innovation within pharmacology, and whilst here he discovered a passion for drug research. Today, Professor Godman is a Visiting Professor at the University of Strathclyde, and a Visiting Professor at Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University. Over the last 15 years, Professor Godman has authored/co-authored over 500 publications in peer-reviewed journals and has seen a number of his students progress from PhD candidates to Lecturers, Senior Lecturers, Professors and Vice-Deans. We spoke to Professor Godman about his career, his time at King’s and why, after undertaking his PhD at 53, he believes it is never too late to go back to university.

A passion for medicine

I developed a real interest in medicines and how they work whilst at King’s, especially issues surrounding receptors and the mechanism of action of medicines. This was an exciting time in pharmacology - renowned pharmacologists Sir John Vane and Salvador Moncada were demonstrating how aspirin worked, and Sir James Black was producing the forerunner to H2 blockers - which inspired me greatly.

I chose to read Pharmacology at King’s even though I studied Chemistry, Maths and Physics at A-level as I wanted to study in a ‘living’ science. In addition, I wanted to be in a course with only a limited number of students so I could really get to know them. This worked and I really enjoyed my time at King’s, also developing a passion for hockey.

During my last year at King’s, we were encouraged by staff such as Dr John Halliday and Dr John M. Littleton to lecture ourselves through searching the literature on set topics, to consolidate our findings and communicate these back to colleagues. This gave me invaluable experience in questioning the findings of different studies, and how these were arrived at, in order to form, communicate and defend my opinions with others. These activities instilled in me a passion to really research and discuss how medicines work and their impact on patient care, subsequently shaping my working career.

After joining the pharmaceutical industry following a postgraduate year at Sheffield University, during which I read Economics and Business Studies, I eventually ended up in health economics; the objective was to better communicate the value of medicines. I subsequently joined a European Healthcare Consultancy in 1993 to undertake similar activities for companies as well as help health authorities with key issues including prioritisation and rationing healthcare. Following this, I joined a colleague to establish an international consultancy where I headed the international division.

Professor Brian Godman, wearing a black suit, is seen smiling.

New beginnings

However, following a quadruple bypass in my mid to late 40s, I decided on a complete change in career and in 2006, following help from colleagues in Italy, became a full time PhD student aged 53 with the Open University. My PhD contained my passions of pharmacology and health policy, with my time in consultancy helping me to quickly assimilate scientific data and process this into a format suitable for submission to scientific journals. My previous experiences also proved invaluable when working with colleagues in different institutions across countries to secure grants from European and national organisations as well as the World Health Organisation. Over the past years, I have also had the opportunity to work with incredible researchers across multiple countries and continents. These collaborations and outputs have resulted in the opportunity to edit a number of journals, including Frontiers in Pharmacology, Pharmacoeconomics Open, Frontiers Health Economics as well as professorships/associate professorships for several universities.

I hope I have shown King’s alumni that if really interested, it is never too late to start a PhD and be successful at it.– Professor Brian Godman

Returning to academia


I must admit I was apprehensive about starting a doctoral degree at 53 and whether I had the necessary skills and application to undertake one with age not on my side! However, I need not have worried as the skills I learnt during my working career proved invaluable to help me quickly get started with my PhD and engage with key personnel across Europe. As a result, I was able to rapidly start publishing the early findings from my research. The key areas and skills in the PhD, similar to consultancy, were communication, planning, organisation and problem solving. In addition, I learned to be far more cautious about findings and their implications as compared with consultancy, where companies and organisations want you to be far more certain in your recommendations. These skills are extremely helpful for anyone wishing to progress in academia following their doctorate.

I hope I have shown King’s alumni that if really interested, it is never too late to start a PhD and be successful at it.

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