Meet Professor Julia Buckingham, Vice-Chancellor and President of Brunel University London and 2017 Society for Endocrinology Jubilee Medal winner. Professor Buckingham’s work focuses on the mechanisms controlling the hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) axis. Her outstanding work together with her contribution to the Society, of which she was President from 2009 to 2012, has led to her being awarded this medal, to be presented the annual conference, SfE BES 2017, in Harrogate, 6-8 November 2017. In this interview, Professor Buckingham tells us about her journey in endocrinology.
Q: Can you tell us more about your career path and research interests?
I developed my passion for endocrinology as an undergraduate student at Sheffield University, where I was inspired by my amazing teachers. My love for pharmacology, triggered by a short spell in the pharmaceutical industry, came later, before I started my PhD. Since then I have worked in both endocrinology and pharmacology and have remained firmly wedded to academia. Throughout my career I have combined research and education, and I passionately believe that the two are symbiotic. In fact, I get very cross with people who are ‘too posh to teach’ – we all have a responsibility for the next generation, just as previous generations did for us. I have had enormous fun over the years working with my research group (and contributing a little bit, I hope!) to our knowledge and understanding of the HPA axis. I have also been privileged to work with the broader academic community – research funders, publishers, learned societies, particularly the Society for Endocrinology. Looking back on my career, I think I have probably always been interested in leadership roles, although I didn’t think about it in those terms. My previous role as Pro-Rector for Education at Imperial College London opened my eyes to the broader issues facing higher education in the UK and internationally, and that led to my current role as Vice-Chancellor of Brunel University London.
Q: What specifically are you presenting at your Jubilee Medal Lecture at SfE BES 2017?
At the conference I will be talking about the complex relationship between the host-defence system and the HPA axis. I will specifically focus on the role of a family of receptors, which were first identified as targets for formylated bacterial peptides, and which contribute to the pathological response to infection.
Q: What are you particularly looking forward to at SfE BES 2017?
The programme is fantastic as always, and it is difficult to choose. I always try to go to the plenary lectures and I am particularly looking forward to brushing up my knowledge of POMC processing.
However, the most interesting insights you can get at these events often come from talking to people who are presenting posters, so I would urge everyone to spend time doing that.
Finally, I look forward to catching up with old friends and colleagues, of course.
Q: What has been your career highlight so far?
My research team would say it is seeing new data – and they would go to great lengths to wind me up by telling me they’re not sure how an experiment has gone because they haven’t worked the results out yet! But if you ask me, the greatest highlights are always when seeing someone in my team do well and progress to the next stage of their career, and as Vice-Chancellor, seeing the pride and joy of parents from across the globe when their sons and daughters collect their degrees at graduation.
Q: What are your future plans for your work and career?
I am very focused on my work at Brunel at the moment and I haven’t given much thought as to what comes next. Theoretically it should be retirement, but I can’t imagine that – when my time at Brunel comes to an end I shall be looking to do something else!
Q: Who do you most admire professionally?
That’s a very difficult question as I have met so many hugely impressive people in different walks of life – it would be unfair to pick one.
Q: Any words of wisdom for aspiring endocrinologists out there?
Follow your passions, keep an open mind and don’t let a hypercritical referee’s report get you down.
Q: What do you think will be the next major breakthrough in your field?
If I knew the answer to that I would be working on it now!
You can attend Professor Buckingham’s lecture, ‘Bacteria, steroids and formyl peptide receptors – more twists to the inflammatory response’, at SfE BES 2017 on Wednesday 8 November, 16.15-16.45. See more details in the scientific programme.