Doing Watt Matters – Alumnus on frontline of COVID-19 vaccine



We continue to recognise the significant contributions our students, staff and alumni are making throughout the world at this time. One of our alumni Professor Seshadri Vasan, who completed his part-time MBA at our Edinburgh Campus, is currently on the front lines of evaluating vaccines for COVID-19 and research on how the novel coronavirus is mutating.

Despite his busy schedule as a world-leading expert and Dangerous Pathogens Team Leader at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), Professor Vasan kindly caught up with us this week to explain the crucial role he is playing in responding to this global pandemic and Doing Watt Matters.

What progress are you and your team at CSIRO, Australia's national science research agency, making with the COVID-19 vaccine and research on the virus?

"We were the first outside of China to grow sufficient stocks of this virus to initiate preclinical research, which is funded by the global Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI). We were the first in the world to show that ferrets are susceptible to SARS-CoV-2, and developed this model to run the world’s first multi-vaccine animal efficacy studies. Working with CSIRO bioinformatics colleagues, we have shown how the virus is evolving into clusters and are keeping a close eye on what this means for vaccines, therapies and diagnostics."

Can you explain your role with the World Health Organisation (WHO)?

"I was one of the experts invited to the global research and innovation forum held at WHO Geneva in response to the novel coronavirus emergency. I am an invited member of different WHO ad-hoc expert groups on COVID-19 vaccines, preclinical models, reagents and cross-reactivity."

What motivates you most about the essential work you are carrying out just now?

"We are playing an important role in the global preclinical response to a major pandemic. But this is bigger than all of us, and we can only defeat this virus if we unite as humanity, setting our differences and frustrations aside. We have stood on the shoulders of giants and we have allowed others to climb on us to see further."

Tell us about your time at the Edinburgh Business School and how did it help prepare you for the challenges of today?

"I completed my part-time, on-campus MBA at the Edinburgh Campus. I enjoyed the organisational development, influence and leadership modules the most because it made me realise that in the end it all comes down to people working as a team to solve ‘wicked’ problems. If we don’t get that right, it is not possible to do good science. Economics as a compulsory subject is a unique strength of our MBA, while the on-campus option allows peer-learning and lifelong networks."

How are you personally dealing with the current situation? What tips can you provide our alumni, staff and students, to stay positive and #DoWattMatters?  

"Firstly, this has been very hard on my team, my colleagues, family and friends, and on myself. Accepting that has helped me to cope better. Secondly, while we are doing important work we have to be modest about our own role because many thousands of scientists and non-scientists are working together to figure this out. We need to be honest about the fact that we have bumbled our way through this, with moments of inspiration, breakthroughs and sometimes luck. Accepting our vulnerability can help us stay positive, seek help, and look after the physical as well as mental health and wellbeing of ourselves and those around us."

You can also read Prof. Vasan’s recent interview to McKinsey by visiting: Hope on the horizon: Developing a COVID vaccine.

At Heriot-Watt we are so proud of everyone making a positive contribution, no matter how big or small, so please do share your stories with us by emailing

#OneWatt #DoWattMatters