Immunologists are responsible for investigating the functions of the body’s immune system and applying this knowledge in order to diagnose and monitor a range of diseases and disorders. They are concerned with understanding the development and effects of abnormal immune responses, which are associated with conditions including autoimmune diseases, immunodeficiencies, allergies and transplant rejection. Immunologists work within clinical and academic settings, as well as in industrial research. Their role often involves characterising and measuring components of the immune system, including cells, antibodies and other proteins. They develop new therapies, treatments and vaccines, looking at how to improve methods for treating different conditions.
Typical work activities
- Planning and carrying out experimental test regimes as well as analysing and interpreting the results.
- Applying specific techniques, for example radioimmunoassays and other assays.
- Using specialist computer software to analyse data and produce graphical or diagrammatic representation of results.
- Delivering presentations at national and international scientific conferences.
- Writing original papers for publication.
- Researching, writing and submitting applications to funding organisations.
- Working directly with patients and running specialised patient clinics.
- Liaising with clinical and laboratory staff, such as biomedical scientists, paediatricians and immunology nurse specialists.
- Undertaking a wide range of laboratory-based activities to help diagnose, monitor and treat patients with a range of immunological disorders.
- Meeting with clients and discussing new projects and the progress of current work.
- Developing and researching new products.
- Planning and managing team activities.
- A well-organised approach to work.
- Teamworking skills.
- A high level of self-motivation.
- Flexibility and adaptability.
Immunologists in industry and the scientific Civil Service initially work in hands-on functions to increase their professional knowledge and practical skills. As they develop their experience, they take on more responsibility for projects and will begin to manage the work of other scientists, before eventually becoming project managers/technical directors. A small number of immunologists undertake senior research roles as specialists, whilst others move into other scientific and commercial functions. Clinical immunologists in the National Health Service follow a structured career development path, with further training and increased responsibilities.
In order to retain qualified and experienced staff, employers in the pharmaceutical industry provide opportunities for promotion and development, although these may involve more commercial roles or the management of technical teams.
For academic roles, a PhD is usually followed by short-term postdoctoral research contracts of up to three years in length. Most newly qualified postdoctoral fellows will take up advertised positions or will apply speculatively to an established scientist with whom they wish to work. Geographical mobility can be helpful for career progression. Academic promotion depends on research achievements and success in attracting funding.
Further career development is into lectureships and, ultimately, to professorial level with managerial responsibility. Competition for permanent posts is intense and permanent research posts without teaching/administrative responsibilities are rare and highly sought after.
Original content at prospects.ac.uk