Alumni News

Leading questions – Dr Barbara Domayne-Hayman

11th February 2022

Dr Barbara Domayne-Hayman (1980) completed her BA in Chemistry and DPhil in Bio-organic Chemistry at Magdalen College. Since then she has enjoyed a successful career in the biotech industry and is currently working, amongst other things, as Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the Francis Crick Institute, helping scientists develop their ideas for market. 

What brought you to Magdalen?
I spoke to a number of tutors in various colleges, in both Chemistry and Music, as I was undecided as to which subject to read until very late in the process. Dr Mike Robinson (Chemistry and Admissions tutor) was particularly helpful – and I fell in love with the Cloisters!

What were your first impressions?
Everyone was very clever and knew much more chemistry than I did! It was the second year of women at Magdalen, so when I arrived the feel of the place was basically that of a men’s College with a few women added in. But I found the atmosphere welcoming and rapidly got to know some interesting people.

What is your fondest memory of your time here?
Playing the harp in Mozart’s Flute and Harp Concerto with Bernard Rose conducting, for his retirement concert in the Chapel, is certainly one of the high points.  Music was always a very important part of my life in College. Otherwise – the many late evenings hanging out with friends….

Did you have a favourite place when you were at Oxford?
Magdalen was always my favourite place, I felt so lucky to be surrounded by the beautiful buildings and grounds, the deer, and Addison’s Walk.

What effect did Magdalen College have on your life?
The tutorial system taught me to be independent and resourceful, and to hold my ground in discussions with people who knew far more about the subject than I did. It was great for building self-confidence.

What did you do when you left College?
I stayed on after my undergraduate degree for a DPhil on penicillin biosynthesis. Working in the lab every day was more like having a job, and I was less involved in the College. I enjoyed my DPhil, but decided that I didn’t have the right temperament for academic research, so went into marketing in the life sciences industry, initially in a large company (ICI). Then London Business School opened my eyes to the world of entrepreneurship, and I decided to combine this with my science background and general commercial experience to go into the world of biotech. I now get to work with brilliant scientists, and learn about cutting edge science but without having to do any experiments myself! I love building companies that are trying to solve serious medical problems, and it’s very much a team sport.

What would you say are the first steps in developing a scientific idea into a business?
Having an innovative technology is not enough – understanding the need that it is aiming to fulfil and who will pay for it is essential, as is building a great team who pull together to make things happen. The path is never straightforward. Of course you have to raise finance, but if you get the other things right, that should follow.

What made you become a donor to Magdalen?
I want to help the next generations enjoy the same good fortune that I had. I’m particularly interested in supporting chemistry, bioscience, entrepreneurship activities, and the musical life of the College, as well as the Student Support Fund.

What advice would you give a Magdalen Fresher?
Work hard but make sure you take advantage of the unique opportunities that Oxford has to offer. Whether in sport, music, drama or whatever your interests might be, you can always find a group of like-minded people. You don’t want to look back and think ‘If only…’.  And of course, spend time in building friendships – some of these will last a lifetime.