AN INTERVIEW WITH… ROB FOWKES
Rob Fowkes is Professor of Comparative Endocrinology, and Chair of Small Animal Clinical Sciences, at the College of Veterinary Medicine, Michigan State University (MSU), having previously been based at the Royal Veterinary College, London, for 17 years. He has served on several committees for the Society for Endocrinology.
Who has inspired you most in endocrinology?
There are far too many to list here. I’ve been inspired throughout my career, at different stages, by different people. Early on, it was the likes of Julia Buckingham, Alan McNeilly, Craig McArdle, Holly Ingraham, Mark Roberson, Paul Stewart and Larry Jameson. More recently, great clinical researchers like Dale Abel, Lauren Fishbein, Gary Hammer, Gerald Raverot, and basic scientists such as David Hodson, Gareth Lavery, Lori Raetzman and Sally Camper. All are brilliant scientists, each of them have led by example; all produce beautiful data.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
Well, it would simply be nice to be able to physically go to work, for starters! I’ve always loved lab work, as well as trying to persuade the next generation of researchers why endocrinology is by far the greatest discipline to study. I love teaching (but am less fond of the admin). And I genuinely enjoy my interactions with clinical colleagues, in human and veterinary medicine. I always find them engaging, thought-provoking, and usually rather awe-inspiring.
Any words of wisdom for aspiring endocrinologists?
If you genuinely love endocrine research, keep going. You’ll have far more knock-backs than you can imagine, but the days when things go right are priceless. And I truly believe the endocrine community is one of the most generous and welcoming. I love sharing data and ideas with friends and colleagues in the UK and around the world.
If you genuinely love endocrine research, keep going. You’ll have far more knock-backs than you can imagine, but the days when things go right are priceless.
What are you proudest of in your career so far?
Singing Blur’s Song 2 with Professor Ashley Grossman at karaoke during my leaving do at Barts.
Which was your first SfE BES conference?
This is a good ‘un. BES 1996 in Dublin. It was my first research conference, so I was rather nervous. I need not have worried – within 30 minutes of landing in Dublin, Drs McArdle, Jessop and Harbuz had taken me to the pub for my first of many pints of Guinness and Murphy’s. In fact, a highlight of that conference was the free stout on draft at the banquet. Those were the days.
What has been best about working with the Society?
The Society for Endocrinology has always been good to me. I think the level of support it provided early career scientists (even in the last century…) was exceptional. I’ve loved being involved with various committees (the original incarnation of the Young Endocrinologists, the Education, Science, Programme and Publication Committees and, of course, Council).
I’m still amazed at the support that we received from Sue Thorn in setting up the Autumn Endocrine Retreat (which subsequently became the Career Development Workshop). No other societies were funding trainees for that sort of networking experience. But I will always associate the Society with one person in particular – the one and only Julie Cragg.
How much has your work changed?
Like most fields, it’s been the emergence of high throughput or genome-wide tools. They answer questions in months that previously would have taken decades.
What are the biggest challenges in research now?
How do we recover from COVID restrictions? Some people have been less disrupted than others, in terms of having access to labs. Many people have seen their research activities stop completely – and starting up again will be a huge challenge, as will trying to secure any funding from a diminishing pool of financial resources. I shall be nurturing my start-up funds at MSU particularly carefully.
The only thing I know with any certainty is that someone, somewhere, will always be working on 11β-HSD
What are you looking forward to in the future of the field?
I think we are still woefully bad at looking for alternative models of spontaneous disease, when we actually have access to wonderful resources on our doorstep. Conventional models, such as mice and zebrafish, are still extremely powerful; but we keep those animals in tightly regulated environments that bear little resemblance to our own.
Companion animals, however, are such an incredible resource in which to examine common endocrinopathies. Obesity, type 1 and type 2 diabetes, infertility, hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, Cushing’s, Addison’s, acromegaly all spontaneously occur, all on relatively diverse genetic backgrounds, in animals that share our environment and resources. We need to harness the power of these patients to help accelerate our understanding of endocrine diseases and their aetiologies.
What major changes will endocrinology see in the next 75 years?
I’m concerned that we, as a discipline, will be consumed by others – and yet I still believe that endocrinology is all-encompassing. Every single body system is affected by hormones. The only thing I know with any certainty is that someone, somewhere, will always be working on 11β-HSD…