Lecturer in Genetics and Small Animal Medicine
I went to vet school initially thinking I wanted to be a wildlife vet, and I chose to study in Cambridge because I was intrigued by the possibility of working in a research lab for a year during the course. Although I did not realise it at the time, my choice of Part II Pathology (an intercalated degree in immunology) and undergraduate research project in diabetes immunology, set me on a course that has proved to be hugely enjoyable and rewarding. I enjoyed the diabetes project so much that I was tempted to do a PhD at the time, but I knew that I wanted to be a vet first and foremost so I continued with my clinical studies.
During my clinical training, and as a result of placements and externships, my focus shifted away from wildlife medicine and towards small animal medicine and soft tissue surgery–both of which I really enjoyed. Although I remained keen on the idea of a PhD, I was very keen to experience life in practice and immediately after graduation in June 1997, I spent several years in a small animal hospital practice in the North East of England. This was a really formative time where I learned many practical skills from great colleagues, including how to survive sole charge on call work and made many friends. My interest in small animal medicine developed further, and I passed my RCVSCertSAM in 2000. At this point, I saw an advert in the Vet Record saying that the RVC were offering PhD studentships to vets in practice and I thought I should investigate. I visited the RVC and met several potential supervisors, including was Brian Catchpole, a vet and immunologist, who was keen to develop his research on canine diabetes, in collaboration with Mike Herrtage in Cambridge.
Beginning my PhD in 2001 was a tremendous change from practice, and the small stipend meant that I spent one in three or four weekends doing locum work, but I thoroughly enjoyed my PhD and will always be grateful for the many doors it opened for me. After this, I started to develop an ambition to become a “clinician scientist”–a phrase which was already in use in the medical world.
Although I knew I wanted to continue in research, I also missed clinical work and decided to undertake a residency in Small Animal Medicine, which I was fortunate to be offered in Cambridge. This was a challenging time as the residency was very busy and I still had not completely finished my thesis when I started, but within several months the thesis was submitted and the viva completed in 2004. I had thought I would be able to do more research during my residency, but clinical work and preparation for exams took over, and it was only after I passed my RCVS and ECVIM Diploma in 2006 I could focus again on research.
I am fortunate to be working with very understanding and supportive colleagues (and I have a very supportive husband!), without whom this balance would be a lot more difficult to achieve
With encouragement from the Department, whilst in the role of Clinical Physician in Small Animal Medicine, I decided to explore the possibility of postdoctoral training in diabetes research. It was an exciting time because the first Genome-Wide Association Studies (GWAS) were being published, and Iwent to the Cambridge Institute for Medical Research (CIMR) to speak to
Since November 2014, I have been a University Lecturer in Genetics and Small Animal Medicine at Cambridge and am aiming to apply for further Fellowship funding in the next 12 months to establish my own lab. Since my appointment, I have really enjoyed spending more hands-on time on clinical work and teaching vet students, whilst balancing this with my research, some of which is still based in Oxford.My biggest challenges have been those which face all researchers, including the precarious nature of career progression, including uncertainty about funding. This lack of security can be frustrating as it can prevent people planning a long way in advance, but it also means life is always interesting. I am very lucky to be working in areas I really enjoy and in such a cutting edge research and cli nical environment.
I have met many great friends and have been blessed with highly supportive mentors during my career to date and this network has been a hugely important part of having the confidence to apply for Fellowships and to move between labs and institutions. Attending and speaking at conferences, as well as being involved in veterinary academic committees such as Petsavers grant-awarding committee, examining for the RCVS Certificate and examining for the ECVIM Diploma have also been important in broadening my network of international collaborators and colleagues. An additional challenge faced by all veterinary clinician-scientists is trying to balance clinical work with research, especially across distant sites and with the requirement for Specialist re-accreditation every 5 years.
In this respect I am fortunate to be working with very understanding and supportive colleagues (and I have a very supportive husband!), without whom this balance would be a lot more difficult to achieve