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Prof Sharon Peacock to succeed Prof Athene Donald as master of Churchill College, Cambridge

Prof Sharon Peacock, who led the Covid-19 Genomics UK Consortium (COG-UK) during the pandemic, will become the eighth master of Churchill College when she succeeds Prof Athene Donald.

A professor of microbiology and public health in the Department of Medicine at the University of Cambridge, Prof Peacock’s research over the last decade has focused on translating pathogen sequencing into mainstream practice, helping to improve patient care and public health.

Prof Sharon Peacock at Churchill College, Cambridge. Picture: Churchill College
Prof Sharon Peacock at Churchill College, Cambridge. Picture: Churchill College

As founding director of COG-UK in April 2020, she led the efforts to sequence SARS-CoV-2 genomes to help track its progress and emerging variants, informing the pandemic response.

Prof Peacock, who will take up her new post in October 2024, has also used sequencing to track the spread of antimicrobial resistant organisms between humans, animals, and the environment, and has served as a non-executive director on the board of the Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust since 2015.

She said: “It is an honour to be elected the next master of Churchill College. This forward-thinking and progressive college combines a welcoming and inclusive environment with academic excellence, which includes a focus on some of today’s biggest global challenges.

“Its commitment to access, diversity and equality and its focus on sustainability are impressive and represent areas I am keen to build on. I look forward to getting to know the fellows, staff, students and alumni, and to leading the college through the next chapter in its ongoing development.”

Prof Peacock, who attended a state school, was the first in her family to gain a university degree. She qualified as a dental nurse and then a general adult nurse, before training in medicine at the University of Southampton.

Postgraduate medical training in Southampton, London and Brighton was followed by higher specialist training in clinical microbiology and virology in Oxford, then she gained a PhD following research at Trinity College Dublin and the University of Oxford.

Prof Sharon Peacock at Churchill College, Cambridge. Picture: Churchill College
Prof Sharon Peacock at Churchill College, Cambridge. Picture: Churchill College

A fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences, she was made a CBE for services to medical microbiology in 2015, and awarded the Medical Research Council Millennium Medal in 2021.

Prof Dame Athene Donald’s 10-year term as master concludes in September 2024.

She said: “I am delighted to be leaving the mastership in Sharon’s exceedingly capable hands. She has compelling experience and expertise which will be hugely beneficial to the Churchill College community. I am deeply fond of the college which has been my home for the past 10 years. I am particularly proud of the huge strides forward which the college has made in sustainability and in achieving gender parity during this time, and I look forward to seeing it continue to thrive under Sharon’s mastership.”

Founded in 1960, Churchill College is one of the larger Cambridge colleges, home to around 485 undergraduates and 390 postgraduates, most of whom live on site.

There is a statutory requirement that 70 per cent of students and academic staff are focused on science and technology, with 30 per cent dedicated to arts and the humanities.

The college also has an emphasis on postgraduate education, with a third of students studying for master’s or doctoral degrees, and it has a focus on visiting fellowships, bringing hundreds of distinguished scholars to Cambridge from around the world.

It counts 30 Nobel Prize winners among its fellowship.

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