Episode 11: How to build a satisfying scientific career and make a difference

The Science, Microbes & Health Podcast 

This podcast covers emerging topics and challenges in the science of probiotics, prebiotics, synbiotics, postbiotics and fermented foods. This is the podcast of The International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotic (ISAPP), a nonprofit scientific organization dedicated to advancing the science of these fields.

How to build a satisfying scientific career and make a difference, with Prof. Gregor Reid

Episode summary:

In this episode, the ISAPP podcast hosts talk about how to succeed as a scientist in the fields of probiotics and prebiotics with Gregor Reid, professor emeritus at Western University, Canada. Prof. Reid, who is ISAPP’s former president and host of the first ISAPP meeting 20 years ago, tells about his career path and shares ways to make a difference outside of the scientific laboratory.

Key topics from this episode:

  • The importance of keeping a sense of humor as a scientist
  • Sometimes it pays to do something unconventional: early in his career, Reid decided to work with a urologist who had a hunch that lactobacilli were important in women’s health; they had difficulty getting funding to investigate further but they persisted over a number of years and eventually published some landmark work
  • Reid (with others) investigated on how biofilms impacted clinical antibiotic treatments
  • When clinical problems drive the research, it can have great impact on people’s lives, yet it can take many years to progress from observation to mechanism to better clinical treatments
  • Probiotics are “an ecological approach to an ecological problem” but often the structures (funding, regulatory, etc.)  are not in place for scientists to study them or pursue them as interventions in industry
  • Prof. Reid has worked in South Africa, led by local people, helping them obtain tools for making fermented yogurt (Yoba-For-Life)
  • For early career scientists who want to make a difference in science beyond publishing papers, it’s important to be proactive and go after what you want
  • The right lab and the right environment are essential
  • Reflect on the personal connection to your work that “makes you almost unstoppable”
  • Partnerships are key for international impacts
  • Those involved in ISAPP can champion a cause that’s important to them within the organization
  • Flexibility will be key for probiotics (and other ‘biotics’) companies in the future
  • The field is poised to expand; all kinds of organisms will benefit from probiotics in the future

 

Episode abbreviations and links:

Landmark papers related to vaginal lactobacilli, biofilms and health:

Recurrent urethritis in women

Bacterial biofilm formation in the urinary bladder of spinal cord injured patients

Bacterial biofilms: influence on the pathogenesis, diagnosis and treatment of urinary tract infections

Ultrastructural study of microbiologic colonization of urinary catheters

Additional resources:

Reflections on a career in probiotic science, from ISAPP founding board member Prof. Gregor Reid. ISAPP blog
The Children of Masiphumelele Township. ISAPP blog

 

About Prof. Gregor Reid:

Gregor Reid is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and Canadian Academy of Health Sciences, and Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Western University. 

Born and raised in Scotland, he did his PhD in New Zealand and immigrated to Canada in 1982. His research, most recently at Lawson Health Research Institute, has focused on the role of beneficial microbes in the health of humans and other life forms. He has produced 32 patents, 586 peer-reviewed publications cited over 50,000 times, has a Google Scholar H index of 116 and has given over 650 talks in 54 countries. He is ranked #3 in Canada and #59 in the world for  Microbiology Scientists by research.com. In 2001, he chaired the UN/WHO Expert Panel that defined the term probiotic. In 2004, he helped introduce probiotic yoghurt to East Africa as a means for women to create microenterprises that by 2019 reached 260,000 adults and children. 

He has received an Honorary Doctorate from Orebro University, Sweden, a Distinguished Alumni award from Massey University, New Zealand, a Canadian Society for Microbiologists Career Award and Western University’s highest accolade of Distinguished Professor. He is Chief Scientific Officer for Seed, a Californian start-up.