Innovation & Discovery

Spotlight on: Professor Debbie Smith’s vision for globally influential research

Conducting research and interpreting its findings are fundamental for all university scholars. Whether a scientist, social scientist or arts and humanities specialist, the intellectual excitement involved in discovery and understanding are unsurpassed in my view. I am sure that this is the experience of the majority. My vision for research at York, whatever the discipline, is that it should be the best that there is: world class with global impact. In fulfilling that vision, the University and its partners can truly make a difference in the world.

My own career in Higher Education has been framed by two main drivers: an inexhaustible passion for research, and a similarly lifelong enthusiasm for passing my passion on to others, particularly the next generation. Within this context, working in a research-intensive University is the very best place for me to be – and I have arguably the best job in the institution, with overall strategic responsibility for research.

My work has taken me to countries where the diseases I study are endemic, and I have been privileged to work with professional colleagues, and patients and their families – experiences that have led to an understanding and compassion for others that cannot be gained by staying at home. Such experiences also impact directly on teaching, and I have attracted many students to a greater interest in my own research passions by sharing stories of my travels and the reasons behind them. Everyone wants to make a difference – research in my own area has the potential to change the world for affected populations.

After serving as Associate Head of Department and Chair of the Graduate School of Life Sciences and Medicine at Imperial, I was enticed to the University of York to join the newly-established Centre for Immunology and Infection – now an internationally-recognised centre for research in neglected tropical diseases. While still maintaining an active teaching programme, I continued to focus on research, even during my time as Head of the Department of Biology. That experience, together with an increasing external portfolio of research reviewing activities, widened my perspective. I realised that I could be equally as fascinated by the work of others as by my own (well, almost equally). Whether reviewing institutes, people or research funding applications in the UK or internationally, excellent research is recognisable, exciting and inspiring in its scope and depth. And learning about the expertise of others is a pleasure and a privilege.

So, my current role as Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research is both fascinating and compelling, allowing me to develop a strong strategic vision for what the University can achieve through the expertise of its staff, our areas of unique strength and the opportunities that these present. The good news is that York has an exciting range of ground-breaking research strengths that can ‘make a difference’ – and we need to exploit them fully.