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Kathryn Allan - Academic Clinician

Hi there! What’s your name, and what graduating class were you from?

Kathryn Allan, graduated from Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, University of Edinburgh in 2008.

What do you do at the moment?

Academic clinician in Veterinary Infectious Diseases - this job includes a mixture of clinical infectious disease work (mostly interpreting lab results and advising vets in practice), teaching and research.

What did your pathway look like, and how did you get your current job?

My pathway weaved about a bit until I found the balance of work that suited me and my interests. When I was at Vet School, I was really interested in doing wildlife work as a career. I decided to intercalate in veterinary pathology at the RVC because I realised that pathology would be a really useful tool in wildlife work. After I graduated, I was awarded a Harry Steele-Bodger Memorial Fellowship by the BVA to spend a couple of months working with projects in Tanzania and Kenya that linked to my interests of wildlife disease. I then stayed in Kenya to work on a large-scale epidemiologic study of livestock disease for a few months before returning to the UK for ~ 2 years in small animal practice.

Before long, I was busy applying to funding opportunities to return to work on some of the infectious disease projects in East Africa. I secured an integrated Wellcome Trust Fellowship that supported me to do a veterinary pathology residency and a PhD in the epidemiology of leptospirosis in Tanzania. In the end, I only completed one year of the vet path residency, opting to convert the remaining 2 years of funding to a post-doctoral research position instead. After 1 more year of post-doc research, I finally made my way to my current position, which is a really great mix of all of my interests.

Why did you choose to move away from clinical work?

After doing my intercalated degree, I had a sudden realisation that I didn’t see myself in general practice for the whole of my career. So I decided to explore other career options a bit more seriously and spent a lot of my EMS time working with wildlife, in zoos and also on research projects to try to decide where I wanted to take my future career. My first experiences in East Africa were exciting but also pretty difficult in many ways and so I came back to the UK probably more confused than ever about where I thought my career would take me! Despite my doubts, it still felt really important to me to gain some experience in clinical practice in the UK and I think that was a good decision, not least because it gave me a good fallback option and a decent income while I was trying to figure out what to do next. Research careers are not known for their career stability and it has always been really helpful to know that I could fall back on locum work for a while. Even more importantly, my time in general practice gave me some really useful insights into the challenges of daily life as a vet practitioner, and help me to tailor my infectious disease advice more appropriately in my current job.

What is the best part of the job?

I love the research aspects of my job. My research focuses on zoonotic disease epidemiology and control, and takes a real ‘One Health’ approach. I still get to work with people and their animals but in a different way now and my work also keeps me connected with wildlife and conservation issues that feel important to me. I’ve been so fortunate to spend long periods of time working in the field in East Africa and have some very precious memories from my experiences there.

My current job means that I spend less time in the field and more time in the lab and the office but that is balanced by being in a position to enthuse and help support vets in practice or vet students who are interested in alternative veterinary career tracks. I have a great network of collaborators in Tanzania too, so I can still stay in touch even without regular travel.

This job may not be for you if…

…you are looking for a clearly defined, well laid out career path! I’ve been lucky to find a niche that brings together my interests in wildlife disease, pathology, epidemiology, One Health and clinical work. This is not the only way to do this of course, but at times I’ve really had to keep the faith that it was all going to work out somehow! My career path has given me a great number of amazing experiences but it has also involved a lot of uncertainty and decent amount of job insecurity, which have been the hardest things to deal with.

Do you have any words of wisdom for other alumni?

Don’t feel stuck in clinical practice. If you are interested in alternative pathways, then reach out to other people who could help advise or mentor you. I often have vets in practice contacting me to find out more about research careers and I think many other academic vets are only too happy to talk to vet alumni about other career options.

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