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Q&A with emerging academic research leader, Dr Laura Gleeson


Dr Laura Gleeson, Clinical Medicine, St James Hospital, Dublin, is one of four Trinity researchers who has been acknowledged by the Health Research Board as an emerging leading-edge health researcher. Her research project will investigate the body’s natural defense against TB. We speak to Laura about her personal journey from doctoral training to academic research leadership.

How and why did you decide to pursue a career in Medicine?

To be honest, I originally had Science as my first choice in my CAO application. I had always enjoyed the subject and was pretty ok at it. But coming closer to the time, I decided that a basic Science degree was too vague in terms of specific job choices. When I weighed up my options, I changed my choice to medicine as there was a clear, laid out vocational path.  I also felt that Medicine would be an area in which I could make a difference to people’s lives and be of public service.  So, I managed to get there and graduated with a Medical degree from TCD in 2010.

What would your dream job be?

Believe it or not, I would love to be a novelist as I have always enjoyed writing. But you never know, I still might there and start in my fifties, when I have built up some life experience.

What are you working on now?

I am about to embark on a year’s clinical fellowship at St Mary’s Hospital, Paddington, which is a large major acute hospital in north west London. I had applied for the fellowship before I knew that I would be successful with the HRB Clinician Scientist Postdoctoral Fellowship. I hope that the year in London, where I will join a team which specialises in pleural disease and lung cancer, will improve my clinical sub-specialty skills and techniques. The added experience to work as part of a world-leading clinical academic team will greatly benefit the HRB research project which I will start on my return to St. James in August 2021. I feel very lucky to be paid to work as a Clinical Academic as it is the work that I have most enjoyed since I graduated 10 years ago.

Was there a particular turning point in your life that led you in a different direction.?

I can point to a few factors which definitely nudged me in the direction of research. In my 4th year as an undergrad, I edited the Student Trinity Student Medical Journal (TSMJ). Apart from satisfying my penchant for writing, I became fascinated with the whole culture around research papers and the concept of peer reviewing. It definitely sparked my interest.
Another personal turning point arrived in  2013, when after finishing an arduous few years as a Senior House Officer, I decided I needed a change from the hectic shift work and low hospital staff morale, I applied for and was nominated to the post of Clinical Lecturer under Prof Joe Keane, Head of Discipline of Clinical Medicine, TCD and Consultant Respiratory Physician in St. James Hospital.  As a world renowned expert in TB research, Prof Keane welcomed me to help out his team on various small projects in the area of Lung Disease, which I really enjoyed.
This experience in a dynamic lab, fuelled my interest in undertaking a PhD Degree.  The onerous decision to embark on a PhD, seemed less onerous to me as my sister, Eimear, who was just finishing a PhD sort of led the way.

Who has had the most positive influence on you?

My sister’s positive experience in doing a PhD definitely dispelled any uncertainties I had about starting a research degree. I have to also acknowledge the unbelievable support from Prof Keane over the last number of years. He has acted as a cheerleader and unofficial mentor throughout my PhD and beyond. I am also thrilled that his mentorship will continue as the official Mentor on my new HRB Fellowship Award.
Other TCD people who have been outstandingly supportive from both a personal and career point of view are Anne Marie McLaughlin, Clinical Associate Professor, Clinical Medicine and Dr. Fred Sheedy, Ussher Assistant Professor, Biochemistry, two people to whom I owe a tremendous amount of gratitude.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Looking back, I have worked very hard, with constant focus on achieving milestones. While I would not change where I am today, the only regret is that I did not take a more scenic route rather than an intense, one directional approach. I think I believed that I had to stick rigidly to a career path rather than having any flexibility to change direction. If I was to advise my younger colleagues, I would urge them to think less about strategy and more about following your passions and instincts, as there are abundant opportunities.

What are your aspirations for the future?

The people I most admire are those with a sense of public duty and it would be my highest aspiration to model those people who are dedicated to their work, care deeply about their patients and really want to make a real difference.
My goal to become an academic clinician of excellence  grounded in a commitment to helping others which is probably the reason why I ultimately chose Medicine.
On a totally idealistic level I would really like to affect some efficiencies in my area of public health to improve the professionalism of the service overall, as I do love when systems work well.

Oh and I would like to write that book….