Champions at CURE-Infection

Posted on April 15, 2019   by Erin Taylor

Earlier this year, four of our Society Champions represented the Microbiology Society at the Antimicrobial Resistance & Infection Biology (CURE-Infection) Network Early Career Researcher event at Cardiff University. While some of them had worked together before, this was the first time that so many Society Champions have come together to represent the Society. We caught up with Ed Cunningham-Oakes, Laura Kerr, Daniel Morse and Michael Pascoe after the event to find out a little more about their area of specialism, how they found working together for the first time and their advice for anyone who might be thinking about becoming a Society Champion.

You recently worked together to represent the Society at the CURE-Infection event at Cardiff University. This was the first time that four Society Champions have worked together - how did it go?

Daniel: This was a really great event. I’m relatively new to the field of AMR, but it was great to be involved in an event that not only highlights the importance and necessity of AMR-related research, but to promote the Society and the support that it can give. There was quite a lot of interest in what the Society can do to support students and postdoctoral researchers alike. It was great to work alongside Ed (who is in the same research office as I am currently), Mike (who I had met but not worked with previously) and Lauren (who I hadn’t met yet). All of us are at various stages in our academic careers, but with the same end goal in this role – to promote the Society and engage with like-minded researchers. I’m looking forward to the next opportunity we have to promote the Society together!

Mike: Working with the other Champions at the CURE-Infection event was great fun as we had plenty of time during the breaks to talk in detail about our experiences with the Society and the benefits of membership. I’d previously met Dan and Ed in passing but this was the first time I’d met Lauren. I’m looking forward to working with them again in the future.

Lauren: This was the first event that I have attended as a Society Champion. It was wonderful to see that many of the early career researchers at the event were keen to learn more about the Society and were comfortable approaching us and asking questions. This was the first time I had met Mike, Daniel and Ed, and I look forward to working with them again.

Ed: I was fortunate enough to present some of my own research at this event, as well as attending as a Society Champion, which allowed me to experience the best of both worlds. The CURE-Infection event was a fantastic networking experience and I met many early career researchers with whom I could discuss my research and offer information and support from the Society in exchange for their valuable time! I look forward to playing jack-of-all-trades (but hopefully not master of none!) again in the future.

Tell us a little about your area of specialism

Daniel: My research specialism is biofilms; including mixed-species microbial interactions between Candida and oral bacteria, virulence factors, 3D tissue models (development and use as an infection model for biofilms) and the oral microbiome. I’m interested in how microbes interact and modulate Candida virulence in these biofilms, and how that plays out in infection models using oral mucosa. I’m a pharmaceutical microbiologist so I specialise in developing antimicrobials. I’m currently working on a technology based on colourful compounds called photosensitisers, which are activated by light and can be used to selectively destroy microbes. Since I’m working with a commercial partner, I also have to consider the broader issues of bringing a product to market.

Lauren: My areas are both virology and immunology. I am currently researching the mechanisms that wildtype human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) uses to evade the immune response and therefore maintain persistence within the human host. These mechanisms include manipulation of the cells involved in adaptive immunity and direct cell-cell transfer of virions from infected to uninfected cells.

Ed: I focus on using whole genome sequencing to understand the basis for bacterial resistance, and to anticipate adaptation in response to preservatives found in cosmetics, which is important for industry to develop novel product preservation strategies. I’m interested in modelling the development of said resistance in bacteria such as Burkholderia and Pseudomonas in order to elucidate their mechanisms of resistance.

How do you keep up to date with the latest microbiology news?

Daniel: As an academic researcher, my main source is scientific publications. I have a few automatic key word alerts set up for research articles in my field, but in terms of general news, I really enjoy reading the Microbiology Today magazine the Society sends out. I’m also a big Twitter user, so tend to get a lot of information and communicate in and around microbiology on there. In fact, I’ve met people at conferences who I have ‘known’ for years on Twitter, but never met before in person! It’s a great tool for that.

Michael: I like to keep up with new developments by reading Microbiology Today, Microbiologist and The Biologist. I also follow a few microbiologists on Instagram and have set up automatic email alerts, like Daniel.

Lauren: I too read both Microbiology Today and scientific publications. In my lab, we have weekly journal club sessions where we present new papers relating to the field of microbiology. And, like Mike, I follow other microbiologists on Instagram.

Ed: I like to mix things up by both looking at scientific publications related to my own interest and backtracking to find the literature behind widely-viewed news articles (such as those written by The Guardian and BBC) that bring microbiology into the public eye. I think it’s important to keep up to date with the latest literature, but also to understand how key findings in our field are relayed to the general public.

Why did you join the Microbiology Society?

Daniel: Contrary to many, I actually joined the Society specifically as a Champion. I did this quite early on in my PhD studies, as I really wanted to get involved with the Society to promote microbiology, research and the society in general to wider audiences. This is in my opinion (without bias) one of the better societies for those with an interest in microbiology. The support that the members give each other, the scientific content at the conferences, the networking, the grants and support offered to all stages of microbiology careers are very, very useful indeed. I also submitted an article to the Journal of Medical Microbiology in December 2017, and it was published in January 2018. The communication and ease of working from the editorial team was superb throughout; I highly recommend considering the Society’s journals for your articles!

Michael: I was fortunate enough to complete a Harry Smith Vacation Studentship in the summer between the second and third year of my undergraduate degree. That was the first time I got my hands mucky with research and I loved it! After presenting a poster of my summer project at the Society’s annual conference the following year, I decided to become a member. I’ve been a member ever since.

Lauren: I was also lucky enough to complete a Harry Smith Vacation Studentship, which inspired me to perform a U-turn on my plans to study medicine following my undergraduate. Once I started my PhD, I joined the Microbiology Society as a student member, and then became a Champion so that I could encourage children and young adults from my hometown to follow careers of research.

Ed: Much like Daniel, I joined the Society as a Champion. I was made aware of the opportunity by speaking to representatives during the Biennial Pseudomonas Conference in Liverpool in 2017. Thus far, I have found it rewarding to engage with the Society and help to develop a multitude of events to the same standard to which the conference was held (and hopefully inspire others to lend a helping hand!).

What would your advice be for anyone thinking about becoming a Society Champion?

Daniel: There are more than enough perks to being a Champion that far outweigh the actual effort involved in promoting the Society and what we do. It is a privilege, and I am very proud to be able to call myself a Champion of the Society, as I entirely support what the Society does for microbiology researchers like myself. The role involves far less pressure than you would imagine (headed by one of the most accommodating people I’ve ever met; Paul Easton, Head of Membership Services), and the support and opportunities you are provided with are incredibly far-reaching. Plus, you get a bespoke shiny badge which I quite enjoyed receiving!

Mike: Becoming a Society Champion is a great way to get involved in the wider microbiology community while helping to develop your soft-skills. Representing the Society at events has helped me to support other researchers in securing funding for their own activities and has helped me to grow my professional network. You don’t need to give up too much of your time to become a Champion, but it definitely has its perks.

Lauren: Being a Society Champion is far easier than the name suggests, representing the Society does not require a large chunk of your free time and it’s made easier when you have a great team to work with! Also, the benefits of the networking opportunities, learning more about the Society and how the Society can support you and other researchers are invaluable.

Ed: One of the greatest things about being a Society Champion is being at the frontline of networking and funding for researchers in the field and being given the opportunity disseminate useful information at a plethora of networking events globally. In exchange for a minimal amount of time, you can travel, meet other researchers, and become a hub of societal information and opportunities. I would highly recommend becoming a champion to anyone looking to develop holistically, both as a researcher in the field, and an individual.

If this interview has inspired you to think about becoming a Society Champion, visit the website or contact our Member Engagement Manager, Erin, at e.taylor@microbiologysociety.org for more information.