Researcher Spotlight : Ruth Zadoks

Published: 17 May 2019

This week, Elle has put Professor Ruth Zadoks under the Spotlight. Professor Zadoks is an Associate Academic in the School of Veterinary Medicine and a Professor of Molecular Epidemiology within IBAHCM...

This week, Elle has put Professor Ruth Zadoks under the Spotlight. Professor Zadoks is an Associate Academic in the School of Veterinary Medicine and a Professor of Molecular Epidemiology within IBAHCM. Her impressive background in veterinary medicine has led to a diverse career in research, teaching and working within multiple committees. Now an indispensable member of the Institute, here we discover that Ruth has developed her own research programmes, been involved across a huge range of important research projects and has a passion for developing fruitful collaborations!

Tell us about your background
I trained as a veterinarian in the Netherlands and worked there for 6 years after graduation. During that time, I conducted routine herd health visits on dairy farms, participated in the equine and ruminant out-of-hours emergency rota, and taught bovine herd health and epidemiology. My veterinary degree, research masters, taught masters (in veterinary epidemiology and animal health economics) and PhD are all from Utrecht University (central Netherlands). Subsequently, I spent 6 years at Cornell University in upstate New York: a beautiful part of the world with lots of dairy cattle, excellent research facilities and fantastic hiking and cross-country skiing. Within Cornell’s Quality Milk Production Services, which was primarily a diagnostic facility, I set up a molecular laboratory, where we worked at the interface of service and research. We used farmers’ questions as the basis for our grant applications and implemented our research insights or new molecular assays to solve herd health and food quality issues. In 2008, I came to Scotland. I was based at the Moredun Research Institute and the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies in Edinburgh for a few years before coming to Glasgow.

Ruth Zadoks with capWhy did you decide to come to IBACHM/UofG?
The Institute shares my passion for infectious disease epidemiology and my interest in tackling practical problems with interdisciplinary approaches. Joining the Institute, with its large program of activities in Tanzania, also gave me an opportunity to reconnect with sub-Saharan Africa: during my MVetRes, I spent 6 months in Zimbabwe, and I had often thought of going back to the continent. In the USA, however, connections with South-America were more common than connections with Africa. North-South connections seem stronger than East-West connections; maybe it is the time-difference and the jetlag…

What is your main role within the institute at the moment?
That is actually not an easy question to answer. I contribute to research, teaching, and various institutional roles. I’m the Institute’s Impact Champion and lead the laboratory for One Health Research in Bacterial Infectious Disease or OHRBID at Garscube. I’ve also been responsible for developing activities in the area of antimicrobial resistance or AMR. I lead a large interdisciplinary team of scientists in supporting the National Action Plan on AMR (SNAP-AMR) in Tanzania. In addition, I cover AMR in the Food Security programme, and I have developed a short course on societal aspects of AMR. I also work on group B streptococcus (GBS), which is an important pathogen of people, cattle and fishes: an unusual combination, and a topic that has expanded my disciplinary and geographical horizons even further, with most aquaculture-related activities taking place in Southeast Asia.

 What part of your current work have you enjoyed the most/felt most proud of so far?

It has been very rewarding to build new research programmes and to use those to support the career development of postgraduate students and early career researchers. In the Netherlands, I was among the first to use molecular epidemiology in mastitis (mammary gland inflammation) research within cattle. In the USA, we developed a line of Klebsiella (Gram-negative bacteria) research, at Moredun it was liver fluke, and here in Glasgow it has been AMR and GBS. Bringing people together, and seeing them grow, publish and make career progression as a result of the collaboration brings me immense joy. And hopefully, we solve a few infectious disease problems along the way!

Have you come up against any unforeseen challenges?
Academia is not like Amazon: you can’t just go on-line and order what you want. Sometimes things work out, sometimes they don’t. You don’t necessarily get funding for the work you are most passionate about. Beggars can’t be choosers, so you may end up drifting from your research interests or spreading yourself too thin. Learning to cope with disappointment and maintaining focus can be challenging.

What is your key research interest?
Investigation of the epidemiology of infectious diseases that affect livestock and humans to develop strategies for disease control. That description probably applies to quite a few people in the Institute!

Are you where you thought you would be 5 years ago?
Not really. The traditional research model that I saw around me in the USA and the UK is that of individuals leading research groups. It hasn’t really worked that way in my career. I’m involved in a variety of research groups and collaborations, and my role has been described as “glue in the system”. Not quite as glorious as group leader but very important, nonetheless.

 What are the most important lessons you have learnt from your previous work?

If you are going to spend a lot of time at work, spend it with people and on topics that make you tick. There is always an element of “taking out the garbage”, by which I mean that there are always less pleasant tasks that need to be done to allow research or teaching to progress, but try and maintain a healthy balance between things you have to do and things you want to do.

If you could tell your PhD-self one thing, what would it be?
I really enjoyed my PhD years. I combined part-time research with veterinary clinical work and teaching and had the opportunity to develop a variety of practical and scientific skills and to work overseas. I wouldn’t change a thing about it. It’s my early career researcher-self that could have used a bit of advice: continue to take the time to develop your transferable and research skills. ERC development programmes didn’t exist in my time. Now they do – make use of them if you can.

 Tell us about your plans for the future

If it were up to my partner, the answer would be more hiking, camping and kayaking! I guess that is what I should have told my PhD-self: develop a good work-life balance. The habits you develop as a PhD student are hard to unlearn. I’m still trying …

Don’t miss Professor Zadok’s seminar entitled ‘Something In The Water’ on Friday at 16:00!

First published: 17 May 2019