Dawn Bowdish

The Adrenaline Rush of Discovery

For inspiration, she's got a musical playlist from the '90s. In her job, she's helping people live healthily into their 90s.


Dawn Bowdish is an Associate Professor at McMaster University and a Canada Research Chair in Aging & Immunity. We asked her everything from what inspired her to become a scientist to what’s on her playlist in hopes of giving you a better understanding of what goes on outside the lab for one of the best minds in Canadian research.

What inspired you to become a scientist?
I did a high school co-op in a pharmacology lab and worked with an amazing post-doc. I thought she had the most glamorous job in the world because she got to travel the world over to present her work, take a coffee break whenever she wanted, and have passionate arguments with her boss. I thought that any job where you can be lippy like that, and that be a *good* thing, sounded like the job for me. I also loved how you got out as much as you put into the job and were really working for yourself.

What do you like most about being a scientist?
I love the thrill of discovery and the adrenaline that comes when you realize that you’re on to something big that no one else knows yet. I love working with other scientists as peers, friends, mentors and mentees as I think they are the most interesting people in the world. I love how fast paced it is – there truly is never a dull moment.

How will your research make a difference in our lives?
I study how our immune system patrols the upper respiratory tract to prevent the bacteria that cause respiratory infections, such as pneumonia, from getting a foothold and to keep the bacteria that naturally reside there in check. I have a special interest in understanding why we are more susceptible to pneumonia as we age and why having a pneumonia in mid- to late-life can lead to a rapid decline in health. My vision is to find novel drugs and therapies that will keep older adults infection free and provide them with more years of healthy, independent living.

What’s on your playlist?
I love Metric and USS but I have to admit, my iPod sounds a bit “Best of the 90’s” now – that was the decade of my youth!

If you could meet any historical figure who would it be and why?
Simone de Beauvoir. I love reading her diaries about discovering her voice and her independence in mid-century Paris.