Professor Barbara Prainsack
Professor of Sociology
Global Health & Social Medicine
Date started at King’s
Challenges and achievements
When and what was responsible for you becoming interested in your academic discipline?
I am working at a truly interdisciplinary Department; my colleagues, and also our students, come from various disciplines within and outside of he social sciences. My own background is in political science. I’ve been interested in politics as long as I can remember; but it was not before my doctoral studies that I started to specialise in the area of bioscience. Since then, my work has focused on societal, regulatory and ethical aspects of genetic technologies in medicine and forensics. Although I no longer work at a political science Department, my political science background continues to influence my work very strongly.
What are your research interests, and what drew you to this area?
My current work looks at how genetic and other data and information for personalised medicine are generated, collected and processed. I also explore what kinds of information are considered relevant, by whom and how decisions about relevance and utility are made, as well as at the social and regulatory aspects of these decisions. Concretely, my current projects look at how ‘lay’ people and patients are involved in the creation of genetic knowledge, for example, and September 2015, my brilliant colleague Federica Lucivero will join me as a Marie Curie Fellow to work on the role of portable medical devices in personalised medicine. I also continue my work on solidarity - which is closely linked to personalised medicine, and I spend a good amount of time doing policy-related work at national and European levels.
Tell us about a couple of your achievements that have been particularly rewarding.
I often feel a sense of achievement when I have finished a paper or book chapter, or when students and I have had a particularly good session together. It is also very rewarding to do research that makes me or others look at a problem differently, or that enables us to find a new solution. I particularly enjoy also my policy-related work, because it is there where the impact of our research often is most clearly apparent.
Do you have professional role models? Who are they and what do you find inspiring about them and their accomplishments?
There are several people in the area of my own work who I admire without reservation, not only for their intellectual strength and originality, but also for the kind of people they are. They include women and men and they are spread over several continents, but what they all have in common is that they are not strategic about who and what they support.
What do you feel is the most enjoyable/rewarding aspect of your job at King’s?
I really like the atmosphere and my colleagues at the Department, both professionally and socially. We are a very diverse group of people, including for example anthropologists, MDs, bioethicists, sociologists and political scientists; and between us we also cover all continents of the world! And as a result, I learn something new, and unexpectedly, every day.
We also have wonderful students in SSHM. All of us academics who teach think the best days in the week are when we teach; which is not to be taken for granted… so we are very privileged!
How do you balance the various demands of a career in academia: research, teaching/learning, administration?
Research, learning and teaching greatly overlap, so I don’t find that this needs any deliberate balancing on my part. But I would be lying if I didn’t say that administration is often challenging. It is not always apparent that the time and effort we put into administrative tasks is proportional to its benefit.
How do you balance an academic career with life outside the workplace?
I am very passionate about the topics I work on, and I don’t just switch this off during weekends and evenings. Rather than separating strictly between work and leisure time, I try to make sure that I spend more than half of every day with something meaningful (and if possible, enjoyable).
What have you learnt from your experiences that you would like to share with others?
As with success or failure, things are often different from what they seem! This can be a great consolation when something seems to have gone wrong, and it’s the voice of humility in times of success.