Dr Helen Watson

Dr Helen Watson

Associate Professor of Bioscience (Education)

Peninsula Medical School (Faculty of Health)



Associate Head of School: Education and Student Experience 

I am an education focused academic with an interest in bioscience and skills education research. My background is in biochemistry. My current research is focused on how best to integrate transferable skills into the curriculum, across higher education. I also have a strong interest in EDI, particularly in how higher education institutions can make positive, tangible changes to culture regarding EDI. 

Externally I chair the QAA Biosciences benchmark statement advisory group and I chair the Biochemical Society's Education, Training and Public Engagement committee. I am a panelist for Advance HE's Athena Swan charters. I am also a member of the Royal Society of Biology Curriculum Committee.

At the University of Plymouth I chair the Schools of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Science Athena Swan self-assessment team (SAT) and recently led this team through a successful Silver Athena Swan application, awarded by Advance HE in March 2022. I also co-chair the University Athena Swan SAT. I have a strong interest in widening participation in higher education and co-lead this for the Medical School. I lead on Student Voice for the Dental School and am a pastoral tutor. 

You can see my publications in the tab below, or on my Orcid profile here: https://orcid.org/0000-0003-2946-0441


  • 2012-2013 Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice (PCAP), University of Exeter
  • 2006-2009 PhD in Biochemistry and Cell Biology, University of Southampton
  • 2003-2006 BSc. (Hons) Biochemistry, First Class, University of Southampton

Professional membership

  • Senior Fellow of Higher Education Academy (SFHEA)
  • Biochemical Society

Roles on external bodies

  • Biochemical Society: Chair of Education, Training and Public Engagement Committee and Trustee
  • External Examiner: University of Surrey UK (2018-2022), University of Nottingham Malaysia (2020-), University of Nottingham UK (2021-), University College Cork Ireland (2022-)
  • Chair of QAA Biosciences Benchmark Statement advisory group
  • Member of the Royal Society of Biology Curriculum Committee



Teaching interests

I teach students on various programmes within the Faculty of Health, including medicine, diagnostic radiography and physicians associate. I teach students a variety of life science topics, including biochemistry, cell biology, physiology and genetics. 

Much of my teaching is in small or medium sized group sessions, and I am proactive in creating innovative and interactive sessions.

I hold a number of education related roles within the medical school, including: 

  • EBL facilitator 
  • Academic tutor 
  • Pastoral tutor 
  • SSU provider 

Staff serving as external examiners

I currently serve as an external examiner at the following institutions:

  • University of Nottingham Malaysia 
  • University of Nottingham UK



Research interests

Developing transferable skills 

One of my key interests is in how we best embed transferable skills into higher education curricula. Transferable skills are essential in all fields of work, yet little of our teaching is devoted to them. I have published work suggesting various ways we can embed skills training, especially teamwork training, into our programmes. I am also working on how we best assess these skills; something which is recognised as a big challenge across higher education. 

Equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI)

With significant experience in EDI work both locally and nationally, I have a strong research interest in improving the higher education culture for all. Too often EDI is seen as a tick-box exercise which can be completed and forgotten about. But to be truly inclusive, we need to embed EDI principles in all that we do. I am currently working on some research about how best we can improve the culture in higher education to move to a more inclusive environment where everyone can work, learn and develop to their full potential. 

Scholarship, education and communities of practice

I co-lead the Division of Education and Scholarship (https://www.plymouth.ac.uk/research/camera/division-of-education-and-scholarship) with Tracey Collett and James Edwards. Through this role, and looking more widely at the research on educational scholarship, we are working to share good practice on developing educational scholars through collaboration and training opportunities. We have carried out research on various career pathways in academia and are currently evaluating our work within DES to distill some ideas to share with colleagues in education across the sector. 

Bioscience education

My teaching content is bioscience focused, stemming from my background in biochemistry. I am chairing the QAA Biosciences Benchmark Statement advisory group to revise and update this benchmark in order to guide bioscience educators across the UK in creating and developing bioscience programmes. I have a strong interest in linking science education with embedding skills (as described above). I have recently co-supervised a Master's student (with James Edwards and John Chilton) looking at fundamental science teaching in medical education, at what stages it is taught, how much of it is retained and which aspects are most troublesome. 

All of my published work and outputs can be seen in the 'publications' tab on this page. My published papers are listed on my Orcid page here: https://orcid.org/0000-0003-2946-0441

If you are interested in collaborating with me on any of these research themes (or something else!) please get in touch. I am also available to support and supervise Master's students in medical education (in related themes) and am open to collaborations for PhD studentship applications. 




Watson, H. R., Wisdom, H., Michael, C., Marshall, N., and Neve, H. (2023). Equality pledges: A novel approach to embedding EDI and promoting positive culture change in a UK university. Equity in Education & Society https://doi.org/10.1177/27526461221149033

Mello, L. V. and Watson, H. R. (2022) A special issue of Essays in Biochemistry on current educational developments in molecular bioscience. Essays Biochem 29 April 2022; 66 (1): 1–3. https://doi.org/10.1042/EBC20220032

Watson, H. R., Dolley, M.-K., Perwaiz, M., Saxelby, J., Bertone, G., Burr, S., Collett, T., Jeffery, R. and Zahra, D. (2022), ‘Everyone is trying to outcompete each other’: a qualitative study of medical student attitudes to a novel peer-assessed undergraduate teamwork module. FEBS Open Bio. https://doi.org/10.1002/2211-5463.13395

Coelho, C., Ukoha, O., Onamusi, V., Ogunleye, R., Oduwole, Y., Tredwin, C., Watson, H. and Hanks, S. (2022) 'It is difficult to think about becoming what you have never seen': Black students' reflections around a career in academic dentistry. British Dental Journal 2022 Feb;232(3):142-146 https://doi.org/10.1038/s41415-022-3879-5

Collett, T., Capey, S., Edwards, J., Evans, D.J., McLachlan, J.C., Watson, H. and Bristow, D. (2021), Teaching, research or balanced? An exploration of the experiences of biomedical scientists working in UK medical schools. FEBS Open Bio. https://doi.org/10.1002/2211-5463.13304

Burr S., Martin T., Edwards J., Ferguson C., Gilbert K., Gray C., Hill A., Hosking J., Johnstone K., Kisielewska J., Milsom C., Moyes S., Rigby-Jones A., Robinson I., Toms N., Watson H., and Zahra D. (2021) Standard setting anchor statements: a double cross-over trial of two different methods', MedEdPublish, 10, [1], 32, https://doi.org/10.15694/mep.2021.000032.1

Watson H.R. , Burr S. (2018) Twelve tips for teaching twelve transferable skills, MedEdPublish, 2018, 7, [3], 39, doi:https://doi.org/10.15694/mep.2018.0000177.1

Watson H.R. , Burr S. (2018) Research skills in medical education. MedEdPublish, 2018, 7, [3], 13, doi:https://doi.org/10.15694/mep.2018.0000151.1

Collett T., Hanks S., Watson H.R., Davies T. (2017) Collecting student feedback: a whole-school approach. MedicalEducation. 2017;51(5):547-8.

Watson H.R., (2015) Biological membranes. Essays In Biochemistry. 2015;59:43-69

Watson, H.R., Wunderley, L., Andreou, T., Warwicker, J. and High, S. (2013) Reorientation of the first signal-anchor sequence during potassium channel biogenesis at the Sec61 complex, Biochemical Journal. 1;456(2):297-309.

Öjemalm, K., Watson, H.R., Cross, B.C.S., Warwicker, J., von Heijne, G. and High, S. (2012) Positional editing of transmembrane domains during ion channel assembly, Journal of Cell Science 15, 464-472. doi:10.1242/jcs.111773

Butler, J., Watson, H.R., Lee, A.G., Schuppe, H-J., and East, J.M. (2011) Retrieval from the ER-Golgi intermediate compartment is key to the targeting of C-terminally-anchored ER-resident proteins, Journal of Cellular Biochemistry 112, 3543-3548.

Watson, H.R., Butler, J., Schuppe, H-J., Lee, A.G. and East, J.M. (2011) The Localisation of the ER Retrieval Sequence for the Calcium Pump SERCA1, Molecular Membrane Biology 28, 216-226.

Conference Papers

Jeffery, R., Watson, H. R., Dolley, M.-K., Perwaiz, M., Saxelby, J., Bertone, G., Burr, S., Collett, T., and Zahra, D. A qualitative study of medical student attitudes to a novel peer-assessed undergraduate teamwork module, in South West Orthopaedic Club (Weston-Super-Mare, November 2022) [talk].

Zafar, I., Edwards, J., Chilton, J. and Watson, H.R., Exploring basic science knowledge retention in final year medical schools: A UK-based longitudinal study, in 2022 JASME Conference (Nottingham, October 2022) [oral presentation].

Hopper. H., Watson, H.R., Shianyana, B., Wisdom, H. and Warne, S., A multi-professional approach to improving engagement with EDI in the Faculty of Health at the University of Plymouth, in Health Education England – The South West Multi-professional Educational Conference (Taunton and Online October 2022) [poster].

Powell, M., Langford, M., Binns, L., and Watson, H.R., Peninsula Dental School Equality Pledges: Engaging Dental Therapy and Hygiene students in culture change, in ADEE Palma Annual Meeting 2022 (Palma, August 2022) [poster and oral presentation]. 

Dolley, M.-K., Watson, H. R., Perwaiz, M., Saxelby, J., Bertone, G., Burr, S., Collett, T., Jeffery, R. and Zahra, D. ‘Everyone is trying to outcompete each other’: a qualitative study of medical student attitudes to a novel peer-assessed undergraduate teamwork module, in Advance HE Teaching and Learning Conference, Teaching in the spotlight: Where next for enhancing student success? (Northumbria University, Newcastle, July 2022) [oral presentation]. 

Kelly, A., Carey, J., Addy, A., Belfield, L., Powell, M., Watson, H.R., Matthews, J., Langford, M. The broader view: an interprofessional approach to a more inclusive curriculum, in Advance HE’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Conference 2022: Inclusive Institutions in Action (Manchester 2022) [talk]. 

Watson, H.R. Teaching and assessing teamwork and transferable skills in Evolving Molecular Bioscience Education (Online 2021) [talk]. 

Tolppa, T., Watson, H.R. Evaluation of a near-peer mentoring initiative implemented across all years of an undergraduate medical program, in Annual Scientific Meeting of ASME (Edinburgh, 2015) [talk].

Watson, H.R., Nayak, V., Bostock, F., Hopcroft, N., McGarrick, J., Bull, S. Using team based processes to consolidate learning, in Enhancing Molecular Bioscience Education (Cambridge, 2015) [talk]. 

Bull, S., Watson, H.R., Bostock, F., Hopcroft, N., McGarrick, J. Using team-based learning for consolidation within a problem-based learning curriculum, in Annual Scientific Meeting of ASME (Brighton, 2014) [talk]. 

Watson, H.R., Butler, J., Lee, A.G. & East, J.M. Maintaining the sarco/endoplasmic reticulum ATPase (SERCA) and its modulators in the endoplasmic reticulum, in Molecular membrane biology Gordon research conference (Andover, NH, USA, 2009) [poster]. 

Watson, H.R., Butler, J., Lee, A.G. & East, J.M. Trafficking of calcium pumps in the early secretory pathway, in Golgi 2008 (Pavia, Italy, 2008) [poster]. 

Internet Publications

Watson, H. R., (March 2022) Transferable skills education in the biosciences: preparing our graduates for life outside university, blog post on FEBS Network blog https://network.febs.org/posts/transferable-skills-education-in-the-biosciences-preparing-our-graduates-for-life-outside-university

UKPSF Dimensions of the Framework - Biochemistry and Molecular Biosciences (2020) Dr David Smith, NTF, SFHEA Sheffield Hallam University, Dr Patrick Thomson, SFHEA Strathclyde University, Dr Helen Watson, SFHEA University of Plymouth, Prof Graham Scott, NTF, PFHEA, Hull University https://biochemistry.blob.core.windows.net/public/2020/06/AFHEA-Guide.pdf 

Undergraduate Biochemistry Curriculum Guide (2017) https://biochemistry.blob.core.windows.net/public/2019/05/Curriculum_A5_6pp_leaflet_web-final.pdf

Watson H.R., (2016) Perspectives on peer mentoring and peer tutoring in medical education. Conversations in Medical Education ASME blog



Conferences organised

  • An introduction to effective teaching practices in life sciences higher education online course, module lead for e-portfolios (2021)
  • Evolving Molecular Bioscience Education, Online (FEBS/Biochemical Society) (2021) 
  • Using technology for effective teaching in HE online course, module lead for e-portfolios (2020)
  • Life Sciences 2019, Nottingham, UK (collaboration between Biochemical Society, BPS and Physiological Society) (2019) 
  • Python training course, Nottingham, UK (2019)
  • Shaping your career in molecular biosciences, Glasgow, UK (2018)
  • Medical Schools Council Widening Participation Student Conference, London, UK (2018)
  • Evolving Molecular Bioscience Education, Chester, UK (FEBS/Biochemical Society) (2018)
  • Using e-learning to improve student engagement in the biosciences: a workshop for HE educators, London, UK (2017)
  • Enhancing Molecular Bioscience Education, Cambridge, UK (FEBS/Biochemical Society) (2015)