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The youngest Black female professor ever to be tenured at Oxford was born in Kenya

Patricia Kingori
University of Oxford/Patricia Kingori
A trailblazer.
  • Ananya Bhattacharya
By Ananya Bhattacharya

Tech reporter

Published Last updated

The University of Oxford has made history by appointing Patricia Kingori to a full professorship, making the sociologist the youngest Black woman ever to receive tenure at Oxford or Cambridge.

Kingori, born in Kenya to a Kenyan father and Caribbean mother, spent her childhood in St Kitts, before the family moved to the UK during her early teens. Her sister, Vanessa Kingori, is the first female publisher in British Vogue’s 102-year history.

She studies the everyday ethical experiences of frontline workers in global health, and “was awarded this historic distinction in recognition of the quality and global impact of her research on academia and beyond,” the university said on Dec. 13. Kingori is in her early 40s.

From Kenya to Oxford, via St Kitts

During her eight years at Oxford, Kingori has consistently obtained large and competitive funding grants, written frequently cited and impactful publications, supervised numerous DPhil candidates, and taught hundreds of students, the university said.

However, Kingori’s road to professorship wasn’t without roadblocks. For instance, she was awarded a Wellcome Doctoral Studentship to fund her PhD with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine just a month after she gave birth to her first child. After a year’s maternity leave, she relocated to Kenya with family to do fieldwork. But her career nearly stalled when civil unrest forced her to leave in 2007. Pregnant with her second child at the time, she thought people would write her off at work.

But 10 months after she left Kenya, she was able to go back, armed with two new supervisors, to bring her data collection back on track.

After completing the PhD, she bagged the Wellcome Research Fellowship to do postdoctoral research at the University of Oxford’s Ethox Centre. Since then, her career at the British institution has taken off. Within a span of five years, she went from being a research lecturer to an associate professor.

Kingori beyond academia

In addition to garnering accolades in academia, Kingori has also served as an adviser to multiple organizations including the World Health Organization, Save the Children, Medecins San Frontières, the Nuffield Council of Bioethics, and the Obama administration’s White House Cancer Diagnosis and Treatment in Africa Initiative.

Currently, Kingori is the recipient of a Wellcome Senior Investigator award, leading an interdisciplinary team of researchers exploring global concerns around fakes, fabrications, and falsehoods in health. Outside of her research, Kingori also helms several diversity initiatives, including a visiting scholarship for Black academics to the University of Oxford, and an internships program for students of color.

“Patricia has moved many mountains and shattered countless glass ceilings to secure this historic achievement,” said Jan Royall, the principal baroness at Oxford’s Somerville college, which was created for women in the late 1800s, when most universities refused them entry. “In the truest tradition of Somerville, she is a woman of firsts, a trailblazer. And yet, I have no doubt that where Patricia leads with such determination, implacable good humor, and brilliance, others will follow.”

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