In profile: Dr Fiona Watt, Reader in Rheumatology

Fiona Watt

In the latest edition of our Staff Profile series, we spoke to Dr Fiona Watt, one of I&I’s newest members, about her research interests, first impressions of the Department and future aspirations.

Introduce yourself – who are you and what do you do?

I’m a clinical academic who researches osteoarthritis, the commonest form of arthritis. My research is in the translational space, leading cohorts, experimental medicine studies and clinical trials in this area, to try to improve our tests and treatments for this disease.

When did you join the College, and where were you working before this?

I joined the College on 1 May 2021. Before that, I was working at the Kennedy Institute of Rheumatology at the University of Oxford. For the last eight years this institute has been in Oxford, but prior to that, I was at the Kennedy whilst it was still at Imperial College, and my PhD was also at Imperial. So it feels like returning home!

What are your first impressions of Imperial and the Department?

Although I’ve worked at Imperial College before, it has been a while and I have never worked academically on the Hammersmith Campus (I was a junior doctor here, many moons ago). Despite Covid and all the current challenges, I have been really welcomed into the Department by everyone.  My first impressions of the Department are of a friendly, functional, supportive and diverse environment, which is going to be a rewarding and fun place to work – exactly what I was hoping for. Hearing Ian Walmsley speak at the induction for new arrivals, I was also reminded that I feel very aligned to Imperial College’s overall mission for achieving excellence in research for the benefit of society. It is great to be back.

What have you found to be the biggest challenge so far in taking up your new role?

Making the decision to move was hard. We are all loyal people and spend a lot of time developing relationships, research projects and people who work with us, and these are not always as portable as grants are. So this is a time of flexing, renewal and a smaller group of people working with me than before, at least temporarily. But with change comes opportunity and a chance to reevaluate and refresh, which I am (mostly) embracing.

And the biggest highlight?

I’m enjoying the views from the 9th floor across to the city. It’s great being back in London.

What are your aspirations for the next five years?

I am a current UKRI Future Leaders Fellow, and my fellowship aims to develop post-traumatic osteoarthritis (the osteoarthritis that follows joint injury) as a model which can help us make traction in predicting progression in osteoarthritis as a whole and potentially preventing or slowing the disease. My aim is to continue to make a success of this amazing opportunity and use this as a springboard for important impacts in this area. I want to carry out research that ultimately makes a difference to people living with osteoarthritis or at risk of the condition and I hope over the next five years we will start to see some important progress here.

When you’re not working, what are your main passions and hobbies?

I love to run – mainly 10 km and half marathons rather than anything more exciting. Pre-Covid, I enjoyed theatre and classical music (listening to mainly, I am a cellist though not a currently very active one!). Hoping we can get back to enjoying some of these things safely soon.

If you were exiled to a desert island but allowed one luxury item, what would it be?

Definitely, a comfortable bed and pillow (or is that two things?!). On a good night’s sleep, you can achieve anything.

And finally: what’s one thing you’d like staff in the Department to know about you or your role that we haven’t already covered?

I am the proud Mum of a 10-year-old (with a long-suffering partner, who is delighted to have me back in London) and an aspirational multi-tasker.

I also do lots of work with Versus Arthritis, leading one of their research advisory groups currently and am also a member of two of their centres of excellence (Centre for Osteoarthritis Pathogenesis; Centre for Sports, Exercise and Osteoarthritis). I have also recently become a member of the MRC’s Experimental Medicine Panel. On that note, it’s worth mentioning that I have a namesake based at Kings College London who is running the MRC. This isn’t me and sometimes causes a little confusion!

I’m happy to be contacted, about any of the above!