Graduate Careers: I was told `You'll never make it, Craft'

How I got here
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The Independent Culture
Professor Ian Craft, 62, is director of the London Gynaecology and Fert-ility Centre. He has over 20 years' experience in the area of fertility and gynaecology and has pioneered many innovations in in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) which are now used worldwide.

Education and background: I had an extremely happy childhood in Woodford Green. Fortunately, my parents didn't put pressure on me to do well because I was never confident in exam situations and failed my 11-plus and only got two O-levels out of five. I don't think I was under-intelligent. After all, I managed to pass my 13-plus. I just couldn't bear the stress. That's probably why my headmaster at my grammar school said words to the effect of, `You'll never make it, Craft,' when I told him I wanted to go into medicine. But the combination of a lot of extra tuition and the stability and encouragement that came from the relationship I formed with my future wife, Jackie, at the age of 15, enabled me to prove him wrong.

The second time I took my O-levels, I passed all of them. Then I passed my A-levels a year early. It was at that point I realised that my dedication and commitment was probably strong enough to get me into the career I wanted.

The big idea: None of my family had ever gone into medicine, so everyone was a bit taken aback when I chose it. Throughout my childhood, it was a toss-up between that and farming, and when I realised there was no way I could get the money together to buy a farm, that was that. I knew I wasn't academically brilliant but I am incredibly tenacious. So I worked hard enough to get a state scholarship and managed to get excellent grades throughout medical school. I remember working so much in the early days that I'd only see Jackie once a month. One Christmas, I missed out on every celebration and just sat in a cold room with a hot water bottle and my books.

My early work was working with malignancies, and although I found it rewarding to care for the dying, I longed for happier work. So I entered gynaecology. I've always been fascinated by creation. I couldn't think of anything nicer than being associated with helping people give life. My dedication to it led me to become involved with the test tube baby treatment in the Sixties and then all the other more recent work in facilitating conception.

Most desperate moment: The first test-tube twins were born in Europe as a result of our efforts at the Royal Free. I remember it so well because it happened on my brother's birthday in 1982. The place was full of journalists and cameras and after I'd delved for the first baby, I suddenly heard the heartbeat of the second one. It was a feeling of such wonder but it was also very frightening. I thought I'd have to carry out a caesarean in front of all these people. That was terrifying. In the end, I didn't have to, but I didn't get a wink of sleep that night because of the mixture of emotions.

I wish I'd known: I'd love to have had research appointments overseas. It would have broadened my knowledge enormously to have had a couple of years in Sweden or America learning about the latest practices over there. Once, I was offered a place in New York, but there was no guarantee of a job upon my return and I couldn't take that risk.

Greatest achievement: Qualifying in the first place. Here was someone of uncertain academic ability who became scholastically competent. I could hardly believe it.

The biggest high that I've had during my career, though, happened around the same time that Steptoe and Edwards facilitated the first birth as a result of IVF treatment conducted in a natural menstrual cycle. They'd collected one egg in a natural cycle and fertilised it and as a result, the famous Louise Brown was born in 1978. My achievement came the following year when my team's research efforts at the Royal Free Hospital enabled us to provide tablets to induce ovulation - also resulting in pregnancy. Sadly, the woman in question had a miscarriage after 12 weeks but I still couldn't get over how wonderful it was that this tiny team with very little money had actually enabled someone to become pregnant.

Secret of my success: Paying attention to detail, being totally committed, being demanding, enthusiastic and above all, passionate.

I would say that having a sense of humour is essential too. Otherwise you might as well jump out of the window.

What you'll need to know: Never give up, and be prepared to stand up against authority if you believe a patient's best interests are under threat.

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