She was born in Australia, where she graduated in electrical engineering and worked on radio astronomy. In 1977 she came to England, and has said that one motive of her coming to the UK was a hope for an opportunity to address her gender issues.
On arrival in England she worked for a PhD in astronomy at an all-male St John's College, Cambridge, and did research at the University's Cavendish Laboratory. While working for her PhD she had gender reassignment surgery. On receiving her degree in 1982, she immediately went to US at the University of California, Berkeley as a Miller Research Fellow. In 1984 she returned to Cavendish. In 1996, she was elected a Fellow of Newnham College, one of three all-women colleges at the University of Cambridge. She received opposition from some people, who argued, unsuccessfully, that Padman should not be made a Fellow as she was born male.
- Rachael's Story (autobiographical essay).
- "A gender for success", The Guardian 14 August 2004.
- "Rachael Padman (1954 – ) physicist", A Gender Variance Who's Who, 24 October 2008
- Clare Garner, "Fellows divided over don who breached last bastion", The Independent, 25 June 1997.
- Mike Feathersone, ed., Body Modification (London: Sage). pages 219–220.
- Flo Reynolds, "Arts history: Germaine Greer" Concrete, 19 February 2013.
- "Dr Rachael Padman is the recipient of the Barbara Burford Gay Times Honour", Gay Times, 18 November 2017