Professor Catherine Hawrylowicz
Professor of Immune Regulation in Allergic Disease
Postgraduate Co-ordinator for the Division of Asthma, Allergy & Lung Biology
Co-director and KCL Lead, MRC and Asthma UK Centre in Allergic Mechanisms of Asthma
Asthma, Allergy & Lung Biology
Date started at King’s
Challenges and achievements
When and what was responsible for you becoming interested in your academic discipline?
My first hands on laboratory research project in the final year of my BSc studies was pivotal in sparking my interest in biological research. I had found something that really excited me: the joys of generating research data and trying to interpret it. Despite the pressures in delivery of this experience at undergraduate level, I consider this an important part of the science, and where possible, medical student experience.
What are your research interests, and what drew you to this area?
My current research interests centre around immune mechanisms associated with respiratory health and how these change in chronic inflammatory diseases such as asthma, and more recently also chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. This is closely linked with an interest in the role of vitamin D to maintain respiratory homeostasis and evaluation of its therapeutic potential. Beyond scientific fascination of the problem (there are an estimated 300 million asthmatics worldwide, imposing a massive socioeconomic burden), I was drawn to this area of research from the usual complex mixture of where the research findings take you and the funding opportunities available.
Tell us about a couple of your achievements that have been particularly rewarding.
I have found the achievement, over a decade or more, of making a series of basic scientific observations that ultimately led to a clinical trial in severe asthma patients particularly rewarding. I love the “real life’ or “translational” human immunology approach.To become involved in various public engagement events, for example through interactions with Asthma-UK patient and donor events, the MRC Centenary activities, and schoolchildren. It is very rewarding to get positive responses, new ideas and perspectives from talking about your research, whether it is at a major scientific conference, in student teaching sessions or speaking to the general public.
Do you have professional role models? Who are they and what do you find inspiring about them and their accomplishments?
I admire tenacity, clarity of thought, and the capacity to bring a fresh perspective to the question at hand. Although as scientists we invariably have our own bias and perspective, I admire people who can always see the bigger picture. Many of my professional role models are research scientists, female and male, young and old.
What do you feel is the most enjoyable/rewarding aspect of your job at King’s?
I enjoy engaging with postgraduate research students, particularly within our Asthma Centre. Again and again I am impressed by their ability to articulate their work and its importance to a wide range of audiences, from lay people to leading scientists and clinicians – I don’t think many of my generation had that when we were at that stage of our careers. I also find rewarding the opportunity to collaborate with scientists from a wide range of disciplines – I currently have KCL collaborators within neonatal medicine, environmental and health sciences, and most recently genetics and molecular medicine.
How do you balance the various demands of a career in academia: research, teaching/learning, administration?
How do you balance an academic career with life outside the workplace?
Again this is very difficult and the answer is never perfect. Research and learning does not have a clear end, and is never 9 to 5. Like many of my colleagues I regularly work in the evenings and at week ends.
Having a family is enormously important to me, and the joys and concerns that come with this always puts life into perspective. Having friends outside of academia also helps. I find regular exercise and long walks in the countryside and mountains very balancing
What, if any, support has most benefited you in your career?
A handful of mainly female mentors who have told me a few home truths and given me enormous encouragement about how to circumvent what seemed impossible problems at the time.