Professor McEwan obtained his PhD in Biochemistry from the University of Birmingham and then held a NATO Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a Royal Society 1983 University Research Fellowship at the University of Oxford. In 1993, after 4 years as a lecturer at the University of East Anglia, Professor McEwan joined the University of Queensland as a Senior Lecturer. He was promoted to Professor in 2003 and was Head of the School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences from 2005-2010.
His research spans bacterial physiology and pathogenesis, redox biology and the role of transition metal ions in host-pathogen interactions. He has published over 140 research papers and research in his laboratory is currently funded by an NHMRC Program grant.