Vaccine researcher passionate about postdoc opportunities

Dr Krishanthi (Kris) Subramaniam, who works on vaccines for flaviviruses (such as Zika) as well as currently COVID-19 immunology, is passionate about improving opportunities for postdoctoral researchers.

Kris received her PhD in Microbiology and Immunology from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York in 2009 before joining the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine in 2012 and then the University of Liverpool in 2018. Kris is currently a tenure-track fellow in Infection Immunology in the Institute of Infection, Veterinary and Ecological Sciences (IVES).  

Describing her current work, Kris says: “Although the Zika epidemic for the most part is not a pressing problem, another outbreak could be just around the corner. We are currently developing a Zika vaccine that would be efficacious for pregnant women, a group intimately affected by Zika. At the moment, there is still no vaccine available and therefore, we are looking forward to testing our candidate in a phase I clinical trial”..

“Our team is also actively involved in understanding the immune mechanisms involved in immunity to SARS-CoV-2 specifically the role of T cells. By identifying aspects of the immune response that are integral for protection we can then begin to think about potential vaccines. The work we are undertaking is a collaborative effort bridging research groups within the University, LSTM and other universities across the UK”.

Post-doctoral causes

During her time at the University, Kris has acted as postdoc representative for the Institute of Infection and Global Health (IGH) and is the current co-chair of the Research Staff Association, drawing on her own experiences as a researcher to support postdoc causes.

She said: “As one of the PDRA representatives for IGH, I have helped to organise several career development events and training opportunities that are aligned with the goals of the Athena Swan initiative. These included training on writing grants and fellowships, an alternate career symposium, and a ‘Lunch and Learn’ seminar series co-organised with the Institute of Integrative Biology (IIB) PDRA group.

“Postdocs and early career researchers (ECRs) are instrumental in advancing the University’s research agenda and their growth should be a key concern in any research institution. Through the PDRA associations of IGH and IIB, we organised an ‘Alternate Career Symposium’ for PDRAs, ECRs and other research staff. Alumni from the two institutes participated and we were able to cover a diverse range of alternate careers outside academia including project/operational management, data analysis, medical writing, industry sales and government.

“Acquiring transferable skills that can open career opportunities outside academia is absolutely essential. At present the competitive nature of academia means that not every PDRA or ECR will obtain a tenure track position and therefore, gaining skills that can be used for other careers is required. The University’s recently launched Prosper initiative will help with this.”

Personally, Kris has benefitted from  leadership courses arranged through the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences, as well as through The Academy’s annual Making an Impact development programme. In her role as an RSA co-chair, Kris is committed to creating a research culture within the University that is not only dedicated to researcher development but also to inclusivity and equity. As a member of the RISE (Research in an Inclusive and Sustainable Environment) steering group, one of her goals is to begin addressing the lack of diversity within academics through engagement with the University’s research community. The lack of diversity and equity in academia is even more noticeable as a result of COVID-19. In addition to her membership in RISE, Kris is also the RSA representative on the Research Impact Committee (RIC).

Support and opportunities

As a tenure-track fellow, Kris recognizes the opportunities that the University of Liverpool offers their postdocs. Following successful grant applications, Kris is now actively building her research group.  

 “Being a research-intensive institution, the University of Liverpool has the magnitude to make things happen,” Kris says. “From connections with collaborators across the world to working closer to home with colleagues at the Royal Liverpool University Hospital; we are driving innovation. In addition to research excellence, the work of the RSA, the development opportunities provided by The Academy and the creation of Prosper clearly demonstrate that the University is committed to their postdocs.”

The University provides high quality development opportunities to empower every individual to foster their potential. You can learn more about The Academy’s staff development offering here.

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