Professor Andrea Streit
Professor of Developmental Neurobiology
Dean for Research
Craniofacial Development & Stem Cell Biology
Date started at King’s
Challenges and achievements
When and what was responsible for you becoming interested in your academic discipline?
I have always been interested in biology, but it was a course during my undergraduate studies that drew me to Developmental Biology. Two weeks at the Biological Institute Helgoland, provided a wonderful opportunity to explore and my first insight into the life of a scientist. Making new discoveries and sharing your findings with colleagues was a new experience; watching fertilised sea urchin eggs divide and then develop into a swimming embryo in only a matter of hours right in front of my eyes got me hooked. I have worked in Developmental Biology ever since.
What are your research interests, and what drew you to this area?
My current work focuses on the sensory nervous system in the vertebrate head. In particular, I am interested in the question of how complexity is generated from cells that are initially equivalent, but over time become different from each other to form the eye, ear or olfactory organs. We study how such cell fate decisions are controlled using modern molecular biology tools, with the ultimate aim to provide a ‘wiring diagram’ that explains these processes. This work will not only be important to understand development, but also provide a framework for understanding diseases like hearing and visual impairment.
Tell us about a couple of your achievements that have been particularly rewarding.
I always find it particularly rewarding when we have finished a piece of work and it is finally published and appears in print, when we successfully obtain research funding or when my students receive awards for their work. Being appointed as the Dean for Research last year was an unexpected turn in my career providing a completely new challenge.
Do you have professional role models? Who are they and what do you find inspiring about them and their accomplishments?
I do not have a single role model, but there are different people whom I admire for their achievements and who have influenced my thinking and decisions. Among them are both men and women, who continue to challenge existing concepts, remain curious to discover new principles and continue to ask biological questions rather than ‘collecting data’. Most are also excellent mentors, who have opened up opportunities for their students, and importantly remain true to themselves.
What if any support has most benefited you in your career?
Having a good mentor has been an invaluable support for my career, in particular for difficult decisions. However, it is equally important to set your own ambitions, to remain focused and to develop your own strengths.
What do you feel is the most enjoyable/rewarding aspect of your job at King’s?
Among the most enjoyable part of my work at King’s is to discuss science with my group. Over the years I was fortunate enough to have some fantastic team members and it is great to see them succeed here at KCL and after they leave.
How do you balance the various demands of a career in academia: research, teaching/learning, administration?
This is a challenging problem and I am still learning. Since taking over the position as Dean for Research less than a year ago, my work pattern had to change dramatically and the time I can spent with my group is limited. I have started to set aside blocks of time for different aspects of my role, and this helps somewhat to compartmentalise my time.
How do you balance an academic career with life outside the workplace?
There is often no clear division between work and life outside. Science is not a ‘nine-to-five job’ and it is often in a more relaxed environment – over a glass of wine or during a country walk – that you have the best ideas. I work long hours and often on weekends, but I love travelling. While short breaks are a very refreshing, an occasional longer break to a far away country restores the balance.
What have you learnt from your experiences that you would like to share with others?
For a successful career, it is important to make informed decisions about the next step, to be proactive and explore different avenues or scientific areas, and sometimes to grab an opportunity as it arises. At other times, however, it is equally important to say no – if the opportunity does not feel right or does not allow you to move forward. Finally, finding a good mentor can help a lot.