Professor Shanta Persaud
Professor of Diabetes & Endocrinology
Division of Diabetes & Nutritional Sciences
Date started at King’s
Challenges and achievements
When and what was responsible for you becoming interested in your academic discipline?
I was always interested in science at school and especially enjoyed biology and chemistry. This led to me starting a degree in Biochemistry but I quickly discovered that my real interests were in Physiology & Pharmacology and I was particularly drawn to the fusion of these two disciplines. When I was a Research Fellow and considering making the transition to an academic post, a lectureship in Physiology at King’s was advertised and I applied for that. I would have felt just as comfortable being a member of the Pharmacology Department and my teaching (and research) encompasses both Physiology and Pharmacology. For example, I give lectures to year 2 and 3 BSc students on pharmacological therapies for diabetes and obesity.
What are your research interests, and what drew you to this area?
When I was a BSc student I took a final year research project on the role of anaesthetics in regulating insulin secretion, and this triggered a long-standing fascination with how islets of Langerhans, small endocrine mini-organs in the pancreas, are regulated. I was fortunate enough to be offered a PhD in the same lab when I finished my BSc. This gave me a great opportunity to spend three years focusing on mechanisms by which the neurotransmitters acetylcholine and noradrenaline control insulin secretion, bringing together my skills and interests in physiology and pharmacology. I’m still working in the same field 30 years later, although I’ve moved on from neurotransmitters and the techniques are considerably more innovative!
Tell us about a couple of your achievements that have been particularly rewarding.
In terms of career progression, obtaining a Wellcome Trust Post-doctoral Fellowship when I was 28 was hugely rewarding as it was acknowledgement that my research was considered to be competitive. Now, seeing PhD students that I’ve supervised becoming independent researchers with their own Fellowships is incredibly satisfying. And, of course, being a mum to a daughter (who is about to start a BSc in Biomedical Science) feels like a very special achievement.
Do you have professional role models? Who are they and what do you find inspiring about them and their accomplishments?
I don’t have any particular professional role models, but value the advice and support I’ve received over the years from colleagues.
What if any support has most benefited you in your career?
When I first became a lecturer I didn’t feel well supported by my Head of Department, but when he left King’s I was encouraged to apply for promotion by the next Head. Then after becoming a senior lecturer I had further support from the Department and Head of School to take on more management roles while increasing my research profile. For the past 10 years I’ve had an excellent Head of Department, who fully supported me when I applied for promotion to Professor in 2007. In addition, being part of a collaborative, supportive research group has played a major role in being able to continue to produce high quality research and contribute effectively to teaching, administration and pastoral care of students.
What do you feel is the most enjoyable/rewarding aspect of your job at King’s?
The most rewarding part of my job is making a difference to the lives of students. This can be as simple as talking through things that are worrying tutees or writing supportive references, but occasionally more complex problems require time and effort to ensure that students are properly supported and given the best opportunity to succeed. When I’ve been instrumental in this it really does make my job worthwhile. It’s also very rewarding when members of my group get their PhDs or are awarded Fellowships, or publish papers, as they are the next generation of researchers.
How do you balance the various demands of a career in academia: research, teaching/learning, administration?
It’s usually a struggle to find sufficient time to devote to my research (supervising staff and PhD students, writing and reviewing papers and grants, sitting on grant committees, organising and speaking at conferences, being a PhD examiner, etc.) while being an active, supportive academic (teaching, supervising, marking, mentoring, providing pastoral care, etc.). I really enjoy all parts of the academic life, but wish there was more time to do everything that I want to do, and to do it properly.
How do you balance an academic career with life outside the workplace?
Not very well. I sometimes don’t spend enough time with my family as I often work in the evenings and at weekends, so I really should try harder towards creating a better balance.
What have you learnt from your experiences that you would like to share with others?
It is important to provide as much support as you can to younger researchers to give them the best opportunity possible of becoming independent scientists.