Singleton Abbey

Professor Dame Jean Thomas is Professor Emeritus of Macromolecular Biochemistry, University of Cambridge and immediate past Master of St Catharine’s College, Cambridge.

Dame Jean is an alumna of Swansea University (then known as University College Swansea, University of Wales). She graduated in 1964 with a First Class BSc in Chemistry and was awarded the Ayling Prize, and in 1967 she was awarded a PhD in Chemistry for her thesis titled Hydroxyl-carbonyl interaction in cyclic peptides and depsipeptides, and  the Hinkel Prize.

She immediately took up a Beit Memorial Research Fellowship at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge and two years later joined the academic staff of the Biochemistry Department, University of Cambridge where she has remained, working on chromatin (the complex of DNA and proteins that makes up chromosomes) and chromatin-binding proteins.

In 2007, she was elected the 38th Master of St Catharine’s College, Cambridge and served for 10 years –the first (and still the only) female Master of the College, which was founded in 1473.

She has received numerous awards and honours throughout her career and has served on many national bodies.  She is a Fellow of the Royal Society (elected in 1986), of the Academy of Medical Sciences, and of the Learned Society of Wales (awarded the inaugural Frances Hoggan Medal in 2016); and a Member of the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO) and of the Academia Europaea. She holds honorary degrees and fellowships from several Universities and Colleges, including an Honorary Fellowship from Swansea University, awarded in 1987, and is an Honorary Bencher of Middle Temple.

She has served as Biological Secretary and Vice-President of the Royal Society, as a Governor of the Wellcome Trust, and as a Trustee of the British Museum;  also, inter alia, on the Councils of SERC and then EPSRC, and the Scientific Advisory Council for Wales. She has been President of  both the Biochemical Society and the Royal Society of Biology (awarded the President's medal in 2020) and since 2013 has been a Trustee of the Wolfson Foundation.

She became a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1993 for services to Science, and in 2005 a Dame Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (DBE) for her services to Biochemistry. 

On her appointment in 2018 Dame Jean said:  'When I first graduated from Swansea University many years ago, I could not have imagined that one day I would have the honour of serving as its Chancellor. The University continues to achieve and expand, and I am very much looking forward to being part of this exciting ambition as we move towards the Centenary in 2020."

On her re-appointment in 2022 Dame Jean said: "I feel extremely honoured to have been reappointed as Chancellor from 1 January 2022. I value greatly my connection with the University and it was with considerable pride that I recently attended the Awards Ceremony for the Queen's Anniversary Prize, awarded to the Universtiy for 'transformational work in finding new applications across the world for solar technology'. The good news of this award marked an excellent start to 2022, and I look forward to celebrating more successes across the breadth of the University's work in the future. It has great strengths in very many areas".