Virtual Head Master’s Lecture: Prof Robin Shattock OL

It was a pleasure to welcome Professor Robin Shattock OL (Head's 19771981) for the first virtual Head Master’s Lecture of the academic year. Professor Robin Shattock is the Head of Mucosal Infection and Immunity within the Department of Medicine at Imperial College London, and is currently leading the research into a vaccine for COVID-19. The title of his talk was ‘The COVID-19 vaccine race: more of a marathon than a sprint’.  

The lecture was held via Zoom for the whole College community: 70 Lancing Scholars and members of the Medics’ Society attended at the school and from home, whilst over 250 College parents and OLs watched online from all over the world.

Professor Shattock gave us a brief overview on how pandemics have developed in the past, discussing the differences amongst the various waves that have touched humanity, from the Justinian plague to the most recent threats to our communities. The audience was given an insight into the challenges presented in particular by COVID-19, and how scientists think it originated and ultimately developed into a pandemic.

Professor Shattock continued to explain how a vaccine is made in the lab, and the many steps and lengthy clinical trials required to ensure that the vaccine is safe and prevents the infection before being distributed. This same process applies to the new COVID vaccine currently in progress: it is being developed safely, without taking shortcuts, but in much faster time; standard timings of development would be too slow for this pandemic. Professor Shattock’s predictions are that the vaccine is likely to be ready by early next year.

During the talk Professor Shattock recalled his time at Lancing: as a student he was more attracted to acting and music, and Lancing gave him the ability to be himself and the space to explore things. He later moved on to a career in science, but still recognised that to be successful in science (and in most endeavours) the use of knowledge in a creative fashion is paramount. He also reminded us that science can often seem very dry, but it does require creativity, innovation and huge communication skills – to communicate to the public, but also to share ideas to attract necessary funding. Resilience is also required to keep going forward whenever there is a setback.

Professor Shattock ended his talk with a few words of encouragement for our pupils. His advice was to ‘always feel excitement in your endeavours, be ambitious and creative, and use your careers wisely’; and not to be scared to tackle in their future careers some of the big problems that face humanity.

Head Master Dominic Oliver commented: ‘We can be very proud to count Professor Shattock amongst our OL body. In the midst of a truly hectic schedule, it was extraordinarily generous that he made the time to talk to us. Professor Shattock informed, inspired and challenged in equal measure. These were insights from someone right at the heart of the fight against the pandemic and what he offered was both sobering and exciting. These are incredibly challenging times but I for one ended the evening with a real sense of optimism.’

We wish Professor Shattock all the best in his important research work, and hope to be able to welcome him to the College soon.

(Published October 2020)