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2019 Immunology Teaching Excellence Award

We’re pleased to announce the winner of our 2019 Immunology Teaching Excellence Award, Dr Joanne Pennock. Our Teaching Excellence Award highlights excellent immunology teachers in UK higher educational institutes. The award rewards those who show a passion for immunology and education, along with the communication skills to make these complex subjects accessible to their students. Find out more about the award on our website.

Jo PennockJoanne is a senior lecturer in the Lydia Becker Institute of Immunology and Inflammation at The University of Manchester. She has been teaching immunology for over ten years and has set up two postgraduate immunology programmes: The Clinical Immunology pathway for the NHS Scientist Training Programme and the Clinical Immunology MSc. Joanne also conducts research into host–pathogen interactions, currently supervising three PhD students and one postdoc.

Read the interview below to find out about how she got involved in teaching, some of her most effective methods and the importance of using innovative teaching to inspire the next generation of immunologists.

How did you first get involved in teaching?

I have taken an unconventional route into immunology. I started as a chemistry undergraduate at Imperial College London, then moved to a PhD in organic chemistry, designing anti-cancer drugs at the University of Portsmouth. I didn’t discover immunology until I started an MSc at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, which I loved. I realised then that I am a ‘big picture’ person, and immunology combined the things I liked most about chemistry (pathways, cascades), with my other interests in disease and global health. I started a postdoc at The University of Manchester with Professor Richard Grencis and when the opportunity arose for me to apply for a Lectureship, I took it. I have been very fortunate in that I have been able to help build capacity in immunology at The University of Manchester, designing and delivering two postgraduate courses in Clinical Immunology, one as part of the NHS Scientist Training Programme. Teaching clinical immunology ticks all the boxes for me. In particular, I love finding real-life examples that evidence theory, and this is the perfect topic!


What aspects of teaching do you find most challenging and what are the most rewarding?

I find teaching itself rewarding. Seeing that epiphany moment in a student who has travelled halfway across the world to learn immunology is really worthwhile. All students (hopefully!) have one of those moments where they suddenly understand how things fit together and start to realise how much we don’t know. Setting students up with the ability to ask critical questions is essential. It is really gratifying to watch students move on with their careers all over the world and take the skills and knowledge from their degree with them.

At The University of Manchester, we are proud of our incredibly diverse student population, but this presents its own set of challenges. Individual student learning needs can be very different and in small group teaching this is often amplified. I find that bringing in interactive approaches really helps. Varying the style of teaching (workshops, didactic teaching, peer assessment, formative tasks) means that students can find a way of working that suits them.


Can you describe some of the most effective teaching methods you use to inspire the next generation of immunologists?

I am very supportive of using different teaching approaches to help students develop their investigative skills and critical analysis. However, central to all of this is an ability to communicate, both with each other and with scientific and non-specialist communities. By improving communication within a cohort of students we can create a more engaged learning environment, encouraging discussion, critical thinking and peer learning.

Together with our patient representative Lindsey Brown, we have developed a number of workshops in line with the immunology curriculum which help students develop their peer and non-specialist communication skills. This includes inviting patients onto campus to talk about their individual experiences.

We also run an annual event ‘From Me to You’, where students are paired with a patient who suffers from a condition related to the student’s project topic. Students share both their research proposals and then the research findings with the patient at the end of their project. The feedback from students and patients is always incredibly positive; students realise the real-life impact of their project and work hard to research and communicate their data to a non-scientist audience. Patients gain a new insight into research and really enjoy helping to inspire the next generation of immunologists. As a lecturer I see students grow in confidence and realise that the immunology they are learning impacts every chronic disease that they can think of.


Can you tell us about the importance of finding innovating teaching methods to engage with a range of students and its potential impact on their careers and the immunology field?

Often when we talk about innovative teaching we talk about different ways of presenting information. However, the next generation of immunologists are already digital learners, and expert information gatherers. Learning from the world around us is very accessible with platforms such as YouTube. However, I believe real engagement and deep learning comes from social context and interaction. Interactivity can engage a diverse student group without compromising quality of learning. If we want our students to go on to innovate and discover, we need to give them the space to discuss concepts, make clear choices about information sources and critically analyse what they read.

In today’s funding and political climate, we need immunologists to engage with the public and be clear about the impact of their work. In addition, the ability to network and collaborate drives the field forward. Helping students gain the skills to communicate effectively as a peer group will ultimately engage a wider audience, increase diversity and raise the profile of immunology as a discipline.

Interview by Eolan Healy

What her students say…

“Jo Pennock’s lectures were brilliant; fantastic speaker and really interesting content. The lectures were nicely pitched at exactly the right level with great slides and resources.”

“Being an excellent communicator as well a tireless mentor throughout the learning process, Joanne shows a high level of devotion, and inspires junior immunologists.”

“Jo deserves this award because of the incredible amount of effort she has put into producing a seamless, modern MSc immunology course whilst supervising PhD and Masters students, teaching, and working in public engagement programmes, to inspire a youth of immunologists.”

“As a fellow woman in STEM, she not only inspires me to pursue immunological knowledge and academic excellence, but also to maintain integrity in nonacademic areas of life. Dr Pennock is a power woman!”


Everyone here at the BSI would like to congratulate Joanne on her achievement in winning the 2019 Immunology Teaching Excellence Award. We would also like to thank the other nominees, all of whom demonstrated commitment, innovation and creativity in their teaching. Finally, thanks also go to our judges for their time and expertise in reviewing all the nominations. They had a tough task choosing just one winner due to the high calibre of all the nominees We’d also like to congratulate our previous winners once more:  Dr Jenna Macciochi from the University of Sussex, winner of the 2018 award, and Dr Andrew Foey from Plymouth University, winner of the 2017 award.

BSI Congress 2019

Opening ceremony
17:30–18:00, Monday 2 December
Dr Joanne Pennock will be awarded the 2019 BSI Immunology Teaching Excellence Award at the opening ceremony.

Education meet-up
17:30–19:00, Wednesday 4 December
This informal meet-up will give those who have an interest in immunology higher education the opportunity to share ideas and see how the BSI can support them.