Staff Spotlight on... Dr Ben Metcalfe

Dr Ben Metcalfe. Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering

I have been employed in this current role for a year but arrived at the University in 2007 (complete with ponytail), receiving a Whorrod Scholarship to fund my undergraduate studies. I stayed on at Bath to undertake a PhD as the Brian Nicholson scholar before starting in my current role. I develop courses and present lectures while also undertaking new research in the areas of Bioelectronics and Neural Computing as well as supervising and facilitating Team Bath Racing Electric.

What would you most like to achieve while at the University?

I would love to build my own research group here at Bath, exploring the many potential applications of my research, maybe one day I might become a Professor!

What piece of advice would you like to give to a student?

Learn how to be wrong! Although early life as a student involves being assessed on what you know and what you can get right, remember that being wrong suggests that you are innovating, pushing your own boundaries and trying to do something novel. Being wrong isn’t actually failing – experiments never fail, they lead you to unintended outcomes which can give you new insights. I also feel that there is no such thing as bad experience, any experience contributes to a greater understanding of the self.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

The first film I ever saw was Jurassic Park, and so, being obsessed with dinosaurs, I was convinced I wanted to be a palaeontologist. Then, as I grew up, I discovered computers and my ambitions shifted towards engineering. I’m the first person in my family to go to university and so I have quite a strong drive to achieve as much as I can.

What’s the one thing you know now that you wish you’d known when you were younger?

I’ve learnt to be more honest about my own limitations, and that it is absolutely fine to ask for help. When I was younger, I was constantly assessed and I thought I had to be able to do it all myself and be good at everything. Now I’ve learnt the power of networking and collaborating as a team, nothing is achieved in isolation. It’s all about recognising weaknesses and simply being tactical about finding strategies to overcome them.

What was your first job?

When I was 16, I had a vacation job at home in Cornwall as a double-glazing salesman: cold-calling people from the telephone directory. I lasted two weeks and failed to make a single sale! Later I worked long hours in a seafood restaurant in Fowey, I was much better at that.

When are you happiest?

I love literature, so relaxing in the Tuscan sun with a good thriller, by Thomas Harris or Michael Crichton in one hand and a glass of Chianti Classico in the other.

What one superpower would you like to possess?

I would like the ability to thrive without sleep, there is too much to do in life to spend so much time sleeping.

What’s your favourite book?

La Vita Nuova by Dante Alighieri (in translation, sadly!). I enjoy philosophy and I feel Dante sets the standard for me, although I also enjoy Marcus Aurelius. La Vita Nuova is a reflective self-commentary featuring sonnets written by Dante followed by explanations of what inspired them – dreams, for instance. It was written before The Divine Comedy -  it’s much shorter, and provides the foundational background making the major work more accessible and less intimidating. I find Dante timeless: although it’s a commentary on the Late Medieval Mind, for me it defines the fundamental narrative of life – describing the process of suffering, difficulty and enlightenment through to redemption. There are even parallels between that path and research.

If you could meet anyone in the world dead or alive who would it be?

Luigi Galvani, also known as the The Frogs’ Dancing Master. He was a Renaissance scientist who, in 1780, discovered ‘animal electricity’. He made the legs of frogs’ twitch by application of an electric current, and in doing so he discovered that electricity — conducted by nerves — was fundamentally responsible for the movement of muscles. This discovery eventually led to the creation of my research field in Bioelectronics. I value his honesty and integrity as a scientist and I would love the opportunity to work with him.

What would people be surprised to learn about you?

I could ride a horse before I could walk. My mother was a riding instructress and, from the time I could grip something, I was put on an old Irish mining Connemara pony with the reins in my hand. I’ve kept up my riding in Bath, and even though I still fall off occasionally, I get right back on and keep trying.

If you know of a colleague who’d like to raise the profile of their work or has an unexpected hobby, email comms@bath.ac.uk with the subject ‘Staff Spotlight recommendation’.

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