I arrived in Plymouth to take up my new role as Head of the Medical School in early October. My decision to take up this exciting role has meant moving from Norwich Medical School nestled in the most eastern region of England to Peninsula Medical School that is the furthest west! Nevertheless, these two medical schools share significant commonalities. They were both established as part of the expansion in medical school places that took part at the turn of the 21st century. These medical schools represented a government commitment to expand the number of doctors to meet the needs of less well served communities across the nation and to increase the workforce. Both medical schools, Norwich, and Plymouth, navigate the particular challenges of rural, and coastal communities where transport links and access to health care are not always straightforward. This means that we have a real opportunity to make a positive difference to our local region; we can be a civic organisation. I am delighted to have the opportunity to work at a medical school that is addressing the needs of our local region.I was lucky enough to spend my early childhood in Uganda, and this experience set me on my future career path. I was exposed to the concept that life forms, invisible to the naked eye, could have a profound impact on lives and livelihoods. My family lived on a rural, agricultural research station and I noticed how crops were decimated, animals failed to thrive, and people lived with the acute and chronic impact of neglected tropical diseases. Our time in Uganda ended abruptly with the arrival of Idi Amin, a forced evacuation from the country and a return to Scotland. I realise that my own lived experience sparked my fascination for this secret, microbial world that has such a profound impact on every aspect of life on earth. I studied Microbiology and Biochemistry at St Andrews University, followed by an MSc and PhD at the University of Dundee, picking up additional life science education along the way. My current research interest is Antimicrobial Resistance. This began when I started a new job as a research assistant at the John Innes Centre, a world-renowned Research Institute with a focus on plant and microbial science. I was assigned to a project that set out to characterise new antimicrobial compounds from Streptomyces, a genus of soil bacteria that are adept at producing natural products. By the turn of the 21st century, scientists and health care providers had noticed a significant problem: antibiotics that had seemed so reliable were becoming less dependable and antibiotic resistance infections started to emerge. To many scientists and all microbiologists, this didn’t come as a huge surprise; we had expected it thanks to a clear warning provided by Alexander Fleming in 1945, and our deepening understanding of bacterial evolution. What we were more surprised about was how difficult it was to find effective, new antibiotics, a problem that we still contend with today. Without a doubt raising awareness of this issue and addressing this problem must be a global priority and it is one that I take very seriously. One of the key attractions that influenced my move to Plymouth was the excellent research focused on combating antimicrobial resistance that is currently being undertaken. This is an excellent example of Plymouth University research, that is addressing real world issues. As I bed down into my new role, one of the things that I am really looking forward to is learning more about the research and expertise that we have in the School, the Faculty, and the University. I am genuinely delighted to have come on board at a time when we are poised to consolidate and influence our research reputation and impact.
Professor Laura Bowater MBE