Alison Butt

Alison Butt

“I went to Altrincham Grammar School for Girls and now I am one of Australia’s foremost cancer research scientists.”

Alison, Senior Scientific Officer for the Australian Federal Government

Years attended:


Job Title:

Senior Scientific Officer, Cancer Australia

Description of Job:

Senior scientific advisor to the Australian Federal Government in the area of cancer. Provide agency-wide strategic and technical advice on cancer control.

O Levels/GCSEs

6 As and 3 Bs

A Levels

English Lang/Lit (A)

Human Biology (A)

History (A)

General Studies (A)


University of Nottingham (BSc), University of Bristol (PhD)

Course: Biological Sciences

What inspired you at school?

I enjoyed the stimulating environment of AGGS and the learning support.

Any useful tips/advice?

Do what you love and enjoy – don’t worry too much about a set career path as you don’t always know where you’ll end up (like, on the other side of the world!).

What have you done since leaving AGGS to get to where you are today? (eg work experience, GAP year, apprenticeship, volunteering, travelling)

BSc (Hons) in Genetics at Nottingham University (1989-1992), then a PhD in molecular medicine at Bristol University (1992-1996). Moved to Australia (Adelaide) in 1996 for a 3 year postdoctoral position at the Hanson Centre for Cancer Research. Left in 1998 to take up a research position at the University of Sydney. In 2004, moved to the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, Sydney to head up a research laboratory in breast cancer. In 2011, became Director, Research Investment at the National Breast Cancer Foundation. In 2015, joined the Federal Government cancer control agency, Cancer Australia as Senior Scientific Officer.

What specific qualifications are needed for your job?

A degree and PhD in a health related discipline. Research experience also helps.

Are there any particular subjects that have to be studied to be able to do your job?

Biological sciences. I did history and English literature (and biology) at A level which is probably a bit of an unusual route into a science career, but I found it very useful to be able to write and construct hypotheses etc.

What is a typical work day like for you?

Reading latest scientific literature in relation to cancer to update on latest research, clinical trials and treatments. Also keep updated on media in relation to these topics in case we are asked to comment/provide a position to the Minister of Health. Internal meetings to discuss strategic directions for the particular projects, meetings with external stakeholders to look for new opportunities and directions. Lots of coffee!

What is the best bit about your job and do you have a particular career highlight?

Speaking about research and latest breakthroughs – liaising with researchers to ensure that new treatments and clinical trials can start up in Australia. Always exciting to be able to get a particular trial or piece of research happening that wouldn’t otherwise and know that it will positively impact on patients.

What are the worst things about your job?

Sometimes bureaucracy of Government can be frustrating.

What skills help you most in your job (i.e. teamwork, communication, leadership, time management)?

Critical reading and analysis and being about to pull out the important parts of a document, effective communication is critical – both verbally and written. Time management is always important!

What advice would you give to students looking to get into your line of work? (e.g. subjects to study, getting work experience)

Study what you enjoy and love and what you are likely to do best at. I had a very unorthodox path into science but found that the skills from history and English literature have been very helpful in my career.

How did your experience at AGGS help you to achieve your successes?

My biology teacher, Mrs Lee inspired me to go on to study biology at A level and then university. I also had great history and English teachers, hence my choices. I enjoyed the stimulating environment of AGGS and the learning support.