09/01/2019

Interview with Professor Kenneth Wann, contributor to the EURAXIND project


I was born in St Andrews, Scotland and attended University in Aberdeen where my Undergraduate training was in Physiology. I graduated with BSc Hons 1st class (1970). My PhD (Aberdeen University, 1970-74) was directed at understanding the contribution of an electrogenic pump to the resting membrane potential of skeletal muscle cells. I have a long-standing interest in the field of membrane ion channels and their role in convulsive states and stroke in the brain, pain in peripheral nerves, and arrhythmias in the heart. More recently I have turned my attention to their role in non-excitable cells such as in cancer and bacterial cells. I have worked on the academic staff of the University of Aberdeen (1972-1982), / Royal Free/University College London (1990-1995), and Cardiff University (1995-2017). I was a senior scientist at the Wellcome Foundation (1982-1986) and a Reader at the Medical Research Council (MRC) Clinical Research Centre (1986-1990). I was Professor of Cell Physiology and Deputy Dean of the University Graduate College in Cardiff University until 2017.

EURAXIND: Increasing industry engagement with the EURAXESS Network

Extensive research has been undertaken as part of the Horizon 2020 funded EURAXIND (EURAXESS for Industry) project to identify employers’ and researchers’ needs to support intersectoral mobility and encourage european researchers to consider working outside of academia.

The EURAXIND project has helped strengthen relationships between industry and academia and has provided opportunities for collaborations and strategic partnerships to recruit highly skilled researchers into many employment sectors.

The project has resulted in the development of a collection of new and exciting online resources available for both employers and researchers to use.

This piece is extracted from an article published by the Marie Curie Alumni Association. Find the original interview on the Marie Curie Alumni Association website.

 

  • PROF. WANN, WHERE WOULD WE FIND YOU TODAY?

I have just retired and am currently Honorary Professor of Cell Physiology in Cardiff and I still have a ‘mixed economy’. I am Director of a small start-up company, Ionotica Ltd. As such, I am primarily focused on a programme of work in the private sector that requires investment. I enjoy retaining my links with the Doctoral Education agenda in Europe and currently contribute to projects such as PRIDE and EURAXIND.

 

  • WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO LEAVE ACADEMIA IN THE 1980’S?

I had a strong desire to see whether any of my drug discovery ideas could deliver new medicines. In 1982 the university environment was not an optimal one in which to pursue such a goal.

 

  • WHAT WERE THE CHALLENGES DURING YOUR TRANSITION BETWEEN ACADEMIA AND INDUSTRY?

In 1982, the pharmaceutical company world was a big unknown to many of my university scientific colleagues. I believe that some took the view that I was ‘jumping ship’ and giving up my freedom solely in order to better my salary. In the company to which I moved (The Wellcome Foundation), there was in general a different mindset. For example, there were fixed working hours and the idea of working in the laboratory in the evening, or over the weekend, was far from normal. A more “softly softly” approach was also evident in the culture.

 

  • WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO RETURN TO ACADEMIA?

The Wellcome Foundation changed the direction of its research and closed various programmes of work. I moved to the MRC Clinical Research Centre (a government scientific unit) to revisit an area of research in which I had been active previously. The MRC unit closed with the retirement of one of its key staff and I elected to return to university to assume once again a mixed role of teaching, research and administration. I believe that part of me had missed engagement with young minds, while part of me also welcomed the more obvious security and control over one’s future.

 

  • WAS THE MOVE CHALLENGING?

It was not a straightforward ‘reverse step’. In the eight years that I had been outside the academic world it was not always possible to publish or to apply for grants. Hence, my CV was not the normal one, for someone of my seniority. Furthermore, I had switched research areas several times, working with quite different people, such that my reputation was ‘diluted’ in any one area. Firstly then, I had to find personal support and funding for my kind of research, which was not a simple task. Secondly, I had to re-establish myself within the university community. Finally, I had the sense that in some quarters the view might be that I had failed in the ‘outside’ world, or that I did not know what I wanted.

 

  • WHAT WOULD YOU ADVISE MCAA FELLOWS WANTING TO MOVE OUT OF ACADEMIA?

Only move if you are really enthusiastic about the position on offer and the work that it entails. Do a SWOT analysis of the pros and cons of the move. Ask yourself where this new job might lead you in terms of career advancement. In industry, there is more prospect of you working as part of a team. Is this something you would embrace or enjoy? Don’t expect that any offer will be perfect. There is always risk in changing direction and engaging in something challenging and worthwhile. So imagine how you will feel if it all fails, and you have to look around for alternative employment. Will you be able to deal with that? Recognise that events may not be totally under your control and ask yourself how resilient or adaptable you are. Can you cope with changes that you don’t agree with or see the sense of? Try not to be afraid to try something new, perhaps outside your comfort zone, and recognise that what might be perceived in the future as less than successful (or failure), is something that you can learn and grow from.