Trying to outsmart the microbes that outsmart our immune system: Meet Kate Seib

esearchers receiving funding for their research projects from the NHMRC.Kate Seib is a Microbiologist dedicated to improving public health. After obtaining her PhD in Microbiology from the University of Queensland, she worked for 7 years at Novartis Vaccines in Siena Italy as a Postdoctoral Researcher and Project Leader. She returned to Australia in 2012 and is currently a Group Leader and NHMRC Career Development Fellow at the Institute for Glycomics, Griffith University Gold Coast. Her current research is focused on studying vaccine candidates and the mechanisms of disease of human bacterial pathogens including Neisseria meningitidis (causes sepsis and meningitis), Neisseria gonorrhoeae (causes gonorrhoeae) and Moraxella catarrhalis (causes middle ear infections).

 

SS: How did you get to your current position?

KS: When I left school I couldn’t decide what I wanted to be. I loved English and Biology, so I started a dual Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science. However, after the first year, I realised I was struggling to fit in all the Science subjects that I wanted to do. I decided to focus solely on Science, and I became increasingly fascinated with Environmental and Medial Microbiology. After I completed my BSc in 1998, I did a 1 year Honours Research Project in the area of medical microbiology, and I was hooked. I then did a PhD, which focused on investigating how the pathogenic Neisseria (Neisseria meningitidis and Neisseria gonorrhoeae) are able to defend themselves against human immune defences, such as oxidative stress. I always wanted to work overseas, so shortly after completing my PhD I headed to Italy. I spent 7 years at Novartis Vaccines (Siena, Italy), mainly working on development of the serogroup B meningococcal vaccine (Bexsero™) that was recently licensed in Europe, Australia and the USA. Although this was a fantastic experience and I loved Italy, I missed home. So in 2012 I returned to Australia to start my own research group at the Institute for Glycomics at Griffiths University, supported by Project Grant and Fellowship funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC).
SS: What, or who, inspired you to get a career in science?

KS: I had some fantastic school teachers and University lecturers who made the complexities of Science seem so interesting. I have always been a curious person who like to asks questions, and the more I learnt about human biology and microbiology the more I wanted to know. So a career in science seemed like a great way to ask, and hopefully solve, a lot of really interesting questions.


SS: What is the most fascinating aspect of your research/work?

KS: I am fascinated by the ability of microbes to adapt and survive in new environments. They multiply so fast (i.e., they replicate in minutes or hours compared to the years or decades animals and humans take to reproduce) and are constantly changing and evolving to avoid and outsmart our immune system. While it is challenging and frustrating at times, I enjoy trying to understand how bacteria can cause disease, in an attempt to find weaknesses that we could use as targets for antibiotics or vaccines.
SS: What attracted you to Soapbox Science in the first place?

KS: I am passionate about improving public health and my research enables me to contribute to this goal. However, I also feel that it is essential to increase public awareness of the science behind health issues. Essentially, even the best vaccines or therapeutics will not have the impact they should if segments of the community are going to resist using them. In general, I feel that people either struggle to access clear, useful information, or they overwhelmed by misinformation. Soapbox Science seems to be a great way to bridge some of the gaps that exist between scientists and the community. I also want to work in an environment where I see an equal number of male and female Professors and Directors. I think this initiative helps highlight current gender inequalities, and gives a great voice to female scientists.
SS: Sum up in one word your expectations for the day – excitement? Fear? Thrill? Anticipation?

KS: Challenge


SS: If you could change one thing about the scientific culture right now, what would it be?

KS: I am frustrated by the increasing focus on Journal Impact Factors and the pressure to “Publish or Perish”. I wish we could just do our research and share our results.
SS: What would be your top recommendation to a female PhD student considering pursuing a career in academia?

KS: Learn to use your voice as soon as possible. You will need it along the way, otherwise a lot of time can be lost hoping for what you want or need to appear. There are many things that you need to speak up about if you want something to happen or change.

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