As part of Encephalitis Research Month, we asked eminent female medical professionals to share their experiences of working in science. This blog's interviewee is Professor Angela Vincent, Emeritus Professor of Neuroimmunology at the University of Oxford and Encephalitis Society's Scientific Advisory Panel member. 

Name: Kiran Thakur


Neurologist at Columbia University Irving-Medical Center in New York City. Clinically, I work as a Neurohospitalist (inpatient neurologist). I am also a Neuroinfectious Diseases and Global Health researcher.

When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in science?

The field of neuroinfectious diseases is ever-expanding with novel pathogens routinely discovered, which makes it a very exciting though challenging field! There are so many unanswered questions around preventive measures, diagnosis, and management. Many individuals with neurological infections including encephalitis are vulnerable and marginalized. I was inspired by the individuals I cared for in my training and continue to take care of, particularly those from underserved populations, whose devastating conditions including encephalitis have impacted their lives so significantly. To have a larger impact, beyond the individual patient, I wanted to do clinical research to improve our understanding of neurological infections and better care for the populations of patients with these serious conditions.

Where did you study?

I was an undergraduate at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor where I was an English major. Being an English major has been so important as a scientist as I love to write and I am constantly writing! I then went onto medical school at Tufts University School of Medicine where I was rotating as a student with Professor Gordon Plant at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, University College London. This is where I really fell in love with neurology and will never forget the patient presentations in weekly grand rounds. I then went on to do my medicine internship at the Osler Residency Program at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, and then neurology residency at Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts. Then, I went back to Baltimore to fellowship in neuroinfectious diseases and neuroimmunology at the Johns Hopkins Hospital. This is when I began to acquire research skills in neuroinfectious diseases and traveled internationally,learning about a broad array of neuroinfectious diseases.

What is your area of expertise and how did you choose your field of study?

I think of myself as lover of all things neuroinfectious diseases and what I see clinically really inspires and drives the questions I try to answer in my clinical research activities in neuroinfectious diseases. My clinical research has focused on implementation of novel tools to diagnose and manage neuroinfectious diseases more effectively. I have a specialized interest in emerging and re-emerging neuroinfectious diseases, including tick-borne and mosquito-borne infections that cause encephalitis. In the US and abroad, I focus on diverse populations which have been historically neglected in our healthcare system.

What inspires you in the workplace?

First and foremost, the individuals I take care of and their family members. This drives me to study encephalitis and other neuroinfectious diseases every day. Working with trainees who are excited to learn and who will be the next generation to move the field forward also is truly inspirational. My colleagues and friends who are not only incredible clinicians and scientists, but also wonderful human beings are also a great joy for me. Most important is my family who are my biggest supporters and advocates. I have two young children aged five and eight, and they inspire me every day to be a better human being, and love to teach science in my daughter’s second grade classroom!

What kind of prejudices, if any, did you have to face?

I think there are still very significant ongoing prejudices against women in science. There have been barriers I have had to overcome,
some which involve subtle microaggressions, others more apparent. One piece of advice would be to choose and find
collaborators, mentors and sponsors carefully and identify colleagues who have your best interests in mind when you are starting
out your career. Those around you should take great joy in your individual successes and take pride in your growth towards independence as a scientist.

In your opinion, which changes, if any, are needed in the scientific system to be more attractive to women in science and possible future scientists?

I think we have to create an environment that fosters collaboration and team science more effectively. Too much of science is based on the individual successes, but no one can do science alone. Team-based projects with shared responsibilities and power dynamics especially across borders are so fundamental and fulfilling. These types of studies in clinical research are often the most effective. Women in particular are skilled at being effective leaders of large clinical studies and need to be fostered and given opportunities to lead this type of work. Women are essential to the growth and prosperity of neuroscience research!!!

What advice would you give to people considering a career in science?

Love what you do and be passionate about it. Learn the skills that will allow you to answer the questions you want to answer early on in your career and continue your education throughout life. Don’t be afraid to pivot as needed as science is often unpredictable. Embrace failure, as it is typical in science and one must learn from all the bumps in the road! Work with people who support you and embrace your love of science and who foster your growth, but don’t coddle you and provide critical feedback. Most importantly perhaps, don’t forget to enjoy life. You will be surprised by what inspires your next scientific questions—oftentimes it is outside of the laboratory!

June is Encephalitis Research Month.

And to celebrate, The Big Give is offering to DOUBLE every donation we receive this month - so for every £1 that is donated, we will receive another £1 on top.

Any money raised will go towards our Encephalitis Research Month appeal and projects which support researchers around the world.

If you would like to double your donation to the Encephalitis Society, visit the Big Give website.

Double your Donation