Professor Susan Brain
Professor of Pharmacology
Head of Department of Pharmacology
Head of Section of Vascular Biology
& Inflammation Section, Cardiovascular Division
Pharmacology & Therapeutics,
Date started at King’s
Challenges and achievements
When and what was responsible for you becoming interested in your academic discipline?
I came to university to study biology and chemistry. However, I soon realised that I possessed a real expertise in ‘pharmacology’; where the effects of drugs are studied. From then on, I had one ambition, namely to have an academic career involving Pharmacology.
What are your research interests, and what drew you to this area?
My present area of research stems from the finding that a newly discovered substance, a peptide, has potent effects in cardiovascular regulation, especially blood flow. My lab was given a sample of this peptide by a colleague and I was lucky enough to be given the job to investigate its activity. I quickly realised that it has potent effects on blood vessel reactivity. From then on I wanted to learn as much about it as I could. This interest has developed with time and is now much wider. I also study mechanisms by which it is released in the body, how it may influence cardiovascular regulation and also pain and inflammation, with which it is linked. We now know that it’s blockers (pharmacological antagonists) can relieve migraine, whilst it’s full influence in other systems such as the cardiovascular system, is not yet fully understood.
Tell us about a couple of your achievements that have been particularly rewarding.
I believe I am very lucky to have been able to follow a research career that has allowed me to meet some wonderful scientists and students and to work with them to progress scientific discovery. I have supervised 25 PhD students, some of whom now have senior research roles themselves. I have been particularly proud to be listed on the Thomson Reuters Highly Cited List for Pharmacology. I am also humbled to have received prizes for my role involving mentoring young scientists, when this is something that is just an ordinary part of my life.
Do you have professional role models? Who are they and what do you find inspiring about them and their accomplishments?
I have worked with several people during my research life who have greatly influenced my thinking. Generally I believe it is quite rare to find truly innovative scientists and I particularly enjoy being with those that I think embrace this concept. However, there is also another type of person that has been important in my life and that is senior managers who understand scientists and know how to make a difference whilst taking their colleagues along with them.
What if any support has most benefited you in your career?
I have received positive and supportive help from many colleagues in my career. In particular I strive to maintain a balanced and supportive research team, and this is without doubt a huge benefit to us all.
What do you feel is the most enjoyable/rewarding aspect of your job at King’s?
There are two. Firstly, discovering new knowledge after designing experiments that work and secondly, coming to the end of a day’s practical teaching and realising that the students in the class have valued it.
How do you balance the various demands of a career in academia: research, teaching/learning, administration?
This is very difficult. The hours are long and really I believe that being an academic is a way of life, and certainly not a job that you can shut the door on (even for a weekend). I try to ensure that the research does not suffer as a consequence of the demands of teaching and administration. Sometimes it is not easy. There is a real need to be highly organised and exhibit sound judgement.
How do you balance an academic career with life outside the workplace?
I am lucky in that my family is very supportive. Also, when I get involved in my hobbies, all of which are associated with the outdoors, then I can just ‘switch off’. This allows me to maintain the sense of balance that enables both home and work lives to exist side by side.
What have you learnt from your experiences that you would like to share with others?
A scientist may be highly intelligent, but they also have to be hard working, organised and able to be work as part of a team.
An academic has to be able to cope with things going wrong, it often a case of one step forward followed by two backwards.
A scientific career can be highly rewarding, not just the science, but you meet some great people along the way, from all parts of the world, who can become lifelong friends.