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Image of Illustration of Dr Andrew Grant
Illustration: Kate Copeland

Fellow features in Don's Diary

"It is the variety, challenges and opportunities that drew me to an academic career." says College Fellow, Dr Andrew Grant, in his Don's Diary feature for the University's latest Cambridge Alumni magazine (CAM).

A Senior University Lecturer in Microbial Pathogenesis in the Department of Veterinary Medicine, and part of the operations group of the Cambridge Infectious Diseases Interdisciplinary Research Centre, Dr Grant has an interest in bacterial pathogens of veterinary and clinical importance both in the UK and overseas. His diary can be read below or found in issue 84 of CAM

Lent Term went by in a flash as the Beast from the East brought wet socks – and cold toes

It is the Easter vacation, and I am sat in a café in Devon looking out to sea. After a very busy few weeks, it is nice to have some time to reflect on the term that has gone, plan for the next one, and to think longer and deeper about new research directions – a task that can be difficult in the business of term. I am not sure how long my mind wandered – the coffee was certainly cold – but I am brought back to the present by the sound of plates breaking as they topple off a table that is being cleaned down.

Lent Term went by in a flash. I have been supervising preclinical veterinarians and medics in biochemistry and genetics – it was great to get to know the first-years, and to observe their remarkable progression over a very short space of time. I also learned that, of all of the different options I provided, chocolate mini-rolls and brownies were by far the preferred supervision snack! Meanwhile, contending with the ‘Beast from the East’ meant enduring wet socks and cold toes through many a lecture, supervision and meeting because the paths were too slippery for cycling.

This term, I hope for better weather and to get some more time to focus on my research programme. We have just been fortunate to receive some more funding to investigate how Campylobacter jejuni survives in the food chain and to explore interventions that could limit its survival. C. jejuni is the most frequent bacterial cause of gastroenteritis in the world, but there is so much that we do not understand about this pathogen, not least why it causes infection only in humans, despite being present in the gastrointestinal tract of most animals.

"...it is the variety, challenges and opportunities that drew me to an academic career."
Dr Andrew Grant

Perhaps if we can understand this, it might advance our understanding of how it causes infection in humans and whether this could be prevented. In reality, it will take more than one research project to address and hopefully answer these questions, followed by further funding and many years of research to design and test any intervention. Even if we are successful in advancing understanding in this area, it is probable that implementation might be towards or beyond my retirement – a scary thought for someone who still considers themselves to be at the start of their academic career!

While the progress of biomedical research takes time, and translation into clinical benefit even longer, the four years of the new grant will pass by very quickly. I hope that we are able to attract an enthusiastic and ambitious postdoc who can really get stuck in and enable us to make significant progress. Indeed, by the end of the project, the first-year vets and medics I am currently supervising will be moving into their final clinical year, and will be thinking about the next step in their own careers. Looking out to sea in that café in Devon, I was struck again by the fact that while it is not easy combining teaching, running a research lab, applying for funding and the rest, alongside College supervisions and duties, it is the variety, challenges and opportunities that drew me to an academic career. Simply, I’d be bored if there wasn’t lots to do. But I hope that this term I will be able to keep all of the ‘plates’ spinning and that none wobble – or, if they do, that I’ll catch them before they break.

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