King finds fulfillment not only in his own research, but in fostering his students' success. (Cassandra Rogers / McGill Tribune)

Defining a new pathway to the study of mucosal immunity

a/Science & Technology/Student Research by

At first sight, Irah King looks like your average yoga teacher: long hair, cool bracelets, and a warm smile. However, you’d be surprised at the story behind this new member of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology.

King has a diverse background—a bachelor in psychology, a master’s in physical therapy and a PhD in neurology.

“I always knew what I wanted to do, but it kept changing,” he said. “[Today], I’ve found what I [really] love to do, [which] is immunology.”

King explains that it was only through exploring multiple fields that he discovered his passion for his research.

“I [initially] wanted to become a physical therapist, but a class in clinical neuroscience opened my eyes to the field of basic research,” King added. “I pursued graduate studies in the department of neuroscience, [where my supervisor] was a classical immunologist.”

Now, 12 publications later and a laboratory later, King hopes to foster his students’ success.

“My father was an attorney, and he sat behind a desk, [so] I always thought I wanted to do something very active because I was into sports,” King said. “[Today], I get a lot of enjoyment from doing research, but it’s also very exciting to witness my students’ excitement when they generate their own data.”

In mentoring his students, King keeps his own experiences of exploring science close to heart. He advises students to have a well-rounded education and not to be afraid to browse around until they settle on a discipline they enjoy.

“[Don’t] take life too seriously too early on, because your priorities and interests are going to change,” King said. “Try to do your best to expose yourself to a number of different areas—not only sciences, but arts as well. [This] can inform your decision about what you really want to do as you get older, and you may end up using that information in whatever career you chose to pursue; [but] you do need to work hard to play hard.”

With 10 to 12 hours of his day spent in his lab, King is definitely passionate about his work. Located in the Duff Medical Building, King’s laboratory focuses on how individuals make antibodies that protect them from infection. The team is also looking to understand how the gut microenvironment can impact our susceptibility to diseases, such as allergy or auto-immunity.

In the few hours he has to himself, King finds his escape with his wife and two daughters.

“You find yourself doing things as an adult that you didn’t think [you’d be] interested in doing,” King explained. “[I find myself] figuring out the best princess tutu to put on my daughter—not myself—but it’s really enjoyable.”

Through all of his experience in multiple fields, King has developed a clear direction of where he wants to go with his work.

“I want to be thought of as somebody who does very good science—science that’s reproducible and has an impact beyond our laboratory.”