Katie Ewer

Senior Immunologist: Malaria and Ebola Vaccine Trials

Katie became slightly obsessed with anatomy after she dissected a rat at school at the age of 14. That led on to a wider interest in biology and a career in science felt like an obvious choice so she studied Biomedical Science at university. She wasn’t very interested in immunology as an undergraduate and initially qualified as a microbiologist but became interested in trying to understand how some organisms have been so successful at shaping human populations, which naturally led on to trying to understand how these pathogens interact with the human immune system and a PhD in immunology. She is still fascinated with the battles between the immune system and very complex pathogens, and how vaccines can tip the balance in our favour.

Q: What do you like best about your career?

KE: I love the variety within my job. I get to delve into lots of different aspects of vaccinology, from vaccine design to preclinical testing through to clinical trials in the UK and Africa. I travel widely and meet lots of interesting and inspirational people. I’ve been in the same post for 8 years and every year a new challenge presents itself. Two years ago, we got involved in the testing of Ebola vaccines during the outbreak in West Africa and that has led on to vaccine programs for other emerging pathogens, such as Zika and Chikingunya. I really hope that the work we do will contribute to successful vaccines that will save lives and reduce the burden of disease in the world’s poorest communities.

Q: Can you describe a typical day at work?

KE: There’s no such thing for me! One day I’ll be in meetings all day with colleagues and collaborators, the next day I’ll be in the lab and another day, I’ll spend the whole day writing a paper or analyzing data. I really enjoy spending time with the students in my group, looking at new data and planning experiments.

Q: What advice would you give to other women considering a career in science?

KE: I’d give the same advice to anyone considering a career in science, irrespective of gender; find a question or a topic that you find completely absorbing and make that your focus. A career in science can be really tough, so you have to have the drive keep going when the chips are down. I would also say that science can be a surprisingly flexible and “family-friendly” career.