Dawn Bowdish

Your UBC Experience

During my undergraduate thesis project in Dr. Joe Lam's lab at the University of Guelph I had read and heard so much about Bob Hancock's work that I desperately wanted to do a graduate degree with him. I was nervous about applying but Joe, who knew me pretty well by then, egged me on by saying "Well, I don't know if you should apply -Bob only takes the best students, you know." Joe knew that the best way to get me to do something is to tell me I can't. After my undergraduate degree I taught English in Japan for a year and about half way through my time there I wrote Bob an email asking if I could join his lab. When I finally got an email asking me to join his lab, I was so elated that I called home and woke my father up at 3 am (which is a story he still likes to tell!) Joining Bob's lab was the best possible decision/stroke of luck for my career. Not only did I get to do cutting edge science in a wonderful city but I met some of my best friends and future colleagues. One of the things that I don't think I appreciated at the time was just how many professional connections I made while at UBC. Microbiology & Immunology has such a strong reputation that there were always interesting visiting scientists, industrial research connections, and my peers and contemporaries who have since become leaders in their fields. I still have very warm relationships with my committee members (who I was deathly afraid of as a student!), and the other professors in the department and their kindness and support throughout my career has been very touching.

Thesis Title

LL-37, a human host defense peptide with immunomodulatory properties



Your Career Journey and Achievements

I decided that I wanted a career in research during a high school co-op work term and I have never really considered any other options. I joke that I don't have any hidden talents so it was science or bust. I consider myself incredibly lucky to have my dream job as a professor running a lab full of talented undergraduates, graduate student, post-doctoral fellows and technical staff. I acknowledge that I wouldn't have got where I am if I hadn't had such excellent mentors during each stage of my career. Bob Hancock was always so great at pushing me to be better and promoting and supporting me when I was in his lab and after I left. I remember being awed the first time I heard him teach and speak to a reporter. Listening to his enthusiasm and clarity taught me that being able to communicate my science was as important as doing the science. I think that the ability to communicate what I do to audiences ranging from lay people to scientific colleagues has probably helped advance my career. I'm on the Board of Directors for the Lung Association - Ontario and I often get called upon to speak to donors, policy makers or those living with lung health issues and I really enjoy explaining the importance of research to broad audiences. There are certainly challenges to running an academic research lab- I spend more time writing grants/begging for money than I would like as an example, but the joy of scientific discovery and the pleasure of mentoring the next generation of scientists is definitely worth it. One thing I didn't realize when I was younger but I appreciate now, is the ability to balance work and family with this job. Being in control of my time gives me the opportunity to attend school plays and events and be at home when I need to. I may work a lot but at least I get to choose when I work!

Advice to current students

My advice to current students is to enjoy your time. Even though I worked a lot during my PhD, I still remember those days as some of the happiest and most care-free of my life. I loved what I did so much and I loved the close-knit friendships I had in the lab that it never really felt like work. Vancouver is a great city to be young in so make sure you see as much of it as possible.


Grad Year:


UBC Degree/Program:

Ph.D./Microbiology & Immunology


UBC Supervisor:

  • Ph.D. supervisor: Dr. Robert E.W. Hancock

Other Education:

  • University of Oxford, 2008, Postdoctoral Fellow
  • University of Guelph, 1999, Bachelor of Science


Hamilton, Ontario

Job Title & Employer:

Associate Professor/McMaster University

Current Location:

Hamilton, Ontario


Twitter: @MsMacrophage

Instagram: house.macrophage

Lab website: http://www.bowdish.ca