Anna Middleton

I'm loving the questions: what is ethics and why do we sleep?!

Favourite Thing: I run research projects that gather attitudes towards the use of genetics. My favourite thing is making a difference to people affected by genetic disorders.



1985-1991: Harrogate Grammar School, 1991-1993: Newcastle University, 1993-1995: Manchester University, 1995-2000: Leeds University


PhD Genetics and Psychology, MSc Genetic Counselling, Bsc Genetics, A levels: Biology, Maths, Chemistry, General Studies

Work History:

2010- now: Sanger Institute, Cambridge; 2005-2010: Cardiff University; 2001-2005: Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge; 1995-2001: St James’ Hospital, Leeds

Current Job:

Ethics Researcher, Senior Staff Scientist


Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, Cambridge

Me and my work

I explore ethics and genetics and the impact of this on people

I’m a ‘social scientist’ so I’m interested in the impact of science on people and society. Very soon the NHS will be offering ‘sequencing’ to 100,000 patients. This means that their 20,000 genes will be looked at. That’s a lot of genes! What would you want to know? Cancer? Heart disease? Should only serious, treatable conditions be explored? What about conditions that you can do nothing about? These are questions that I am exploring in my research. The results of my research will be used to help decide what information will be fed back to patients.

Here is a survey I designed, there are 10 short films in it:

Before becoming a social scientist I worked in the health service as a ‘genetic counsellor’ – here I explained genetics to families affected by various conditions and worked out what the chances were of passing on or inheriting a condition.

Twitter: @genomethics


My Typical Day

Writing, listening, thinking and presenting my findings.

My days are a mixture of sitting at a computer writing and talking to people. I do ‘social science’ and so I know how to design surveys and interview studies. My current research has involved 7000 people from 91 different countries and a typical day at the moment involves analysing what these 7000 people say about genetics.

I also spend a lot of time talking at scientific conferences, so that the scientists get to learn about the impact of their work and how people want to use it. At the moment I’m preparing a presentation to give in Cambridge and later this year I’m going to Australia, so I’m creating the slides and making sure my results are presented clearly.

What I'd do with the money

Buy some voting equipment

I spend a lot of time talking to other scientists, health professionals and members of the public about my work. I find the best way to deliver my research is to ask the audience what they would want to know from their genes. You can do this by asking people to raise their hands if they would want a test or not, but people often feel embarrassed to share their thoughts in front of others. I’d like to buy some voting equipment of my own that I can take to presentations so that the audience can press a button on a voting pad, this way they can give anonymous answers. The voting equipment means that the audience can participate rather than just listen to me speak and it’s also good fun too!

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

friendly, approachable, curious

Who is your favourite singer or band?

Last Night’s Fun (Denny is my cousin’s husband!)

What's your favourite food?

Fish and chips

What is the most fun thing you've done?

Make my 7 year old son laugh so hard that he turns purple

What did you want to be after you left school?

I knew I wanted to work in genetics but not in a lab

Were you ever in trouble in at school?

No, not really. I used to sew up my school skirt to make it into a mini skirt and that would always get me told off by the teachers

What was your favourite subject at school?


What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?

Helped to change the way the world views deafness

What or who inspired you to become a scientist?

My Dad

If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?

A dancer

If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!

1. to be happy forever 2. for my kids to be happy forever 3. to always make a difference at work

Tell us a joke.

Knock, knock. Who’s there? Wooden shoe. Wooden shoe who? Wooden shoe like to be a scientist? ……[yeah, I know, it’s a rubbish joke….]

Other stuff

Work photos:

Here is me and Charles Darwin when we met at the Royal Society Festival of Science last year myimage1

This is a sideways image of my desk (darn!! how do I turn it around……!) myimage2

Here is the international survey I designed to gather attitudes towards genetics, I worked with a film maker to create 10 short films that describe the ethical issues raised by genetics, our website is here: myimage3