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Valerie Beral: epidemiologist, academic, and eminent specialist in breast cancer epidemiology

BMJ 2022; 378 doi: (Published 21 September 2022) Cite this as: BMJ 2022;378:o2271
  1. John Illman
  1. London, UK
  1. john{at}
Photo credit: Anne-Katrin Purkiss

Although Valerie Beral, of Oxford University, directed the Cancer Epidemiology Unit in Oxford, she did not shine academically as a young child. Her mother, she recalled, would have been happy if she had become a hairdresser. She then showed a talent for maths, became Australia’s junior chess champion, and obtained a first class medical degree, finding “the medical stuff . . . simple and fun.”

So much so that her tutors asked her to do their homework for them. Speaking on the BBC Radio 4 programme The Life Scientific she said, “It didn’t occur to me that this was in any way unusual or special.” She had been more interested, she added, in “partying and other things.”

After working in a hospital in Sydney, she joined the “hippie trail” in Asia on the way to the UK, defying a senior doctor warning that if she left Australia he would ensure she never got another medical job there. She later joked that the Australian population was too small to satisfy her needs as an epidemiologist.

Into epidemiology

Serendipity gave her a career defining nudge. On arriving in England, having never heard of epidemiology, she began work …

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