How long have you worked at the Uni? What does your role involve?
I started at the University in 2005, which seems like a long time ago! I’m a “jobbing academic” so I teach, research, and do administration. My research looks at how the brain responds to stress and how we can use that information to develop new anti-depressants. I work very closely with Steve Husbands, who is a medicinal chemist, and, between us, we develop new compounds and ideas. To test them out, we use animals for our research, particularly mice. We look at their behaviour and analyse their brains to understand which molecules and pathways are involved.
What would you most like to achieve while at the University?
One of the things I enjoy is around public engagement, both engaging the public with my own research but also trying to encourage and support staff and students to get involved in public engagement. I think it’s important that the public are informed about what we do, and that they have the opportunity to question it.
As someone who uses animals in their research, I’ve also been very active in the Concordat on Openness on Animal Research and how the university meets its commitments. I think that it is important work, to build trust in scientists and trust in the system. At the moment, in terms of developing new medicines, there really is no alternative to animal testing and if we don’t work to be more open about it, as an organisation, then we’re going to face challenges in doing this research.
Another area of work I’ve really been involved with is Athena SWAN. Fundamentally, it’s a charter which says we have to value the contribution of all the people involved in academia or we cannot make progress. I got involved with that work in 2013, and Pharmacy and Pharmacology were the first department at the University to hold a departmental award, then the first to hold a silver departmental award in 2017. I’m now the Faculty of Science Athena SWAN champion and I’m part of the University self-assessment team.
I don’t really know what it is I want to achieve, but I’m really enjoying those elements of my job and I feel like I can make a difference in those roles. That’s really important to me.
Name one thing that makes you feel proud to work at the University of Bath?
Something which has remained true since I started here, is that it’s a friendly place to work; a friendly campus and a friendly University. To be on first name terms with the admin and support staff who are doing things like the grant development and the research support services, I haven’t had that anywhere else that I’ve worked. So, I think there really is something special here that really makes for a friendly community and environment – which I really like.
What piece of advice would you like to give to a student?
I have come to realise that getting the next job and the next opportunity is as much about your network as it is about what you have done and you’ve achieved. So make those networks and keep them! If you’re planning on staying in academia then go to conferences and meetings. Your peers will be a big part of your professional network for years to come.
Who was your most influential teacher/educator, and why?
I’m the first person in my family to go to University, my dad was a plumber, and I didn’t know much about university as an academic career or how to “do” university. My high school biology teacher, Mrs Brookfield, who was also my next door neighbour, made biology really interesting. She had a PhD and had studied animal behaviour, but she just made classes so interesting, which made me want to learn more about biology.
I’d also say my postdoc supervisor, who I’m still in touch with, was so enthusiastic and positive. He just made doing research fun and interesting. He was very good at encouraging and supporting me to attend various meetings and make contacts. I hadn’t had many opportunities like that until then.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I think, like most children, you go through a phase where you want to be an astronaut or a ballet dancer, but I have a very clear recollection of sitting in the classroom when I was 8 and noticing that when you use a pen, a certain part of your arm moves. I remember learning about levers and realising that there’s a muscle in the arm that makes everything move. When I was older I said to the school’s careers advisor that I wanted to perhaps study physiology or pharmacology. They said I should do biology, chemistry and physics, then go and be a doctor… But I’m not interested in sick people, I didn’t want to be a doctor. So I had to push back a little bit.
What’s the one thing you know now that you wish you’d known when you were younger?
Something about how things work out in the end. I fluffed my A Levels, which felt devastating at the time, but my mum picked me up and reminded me that I could go into Clearing, even if I didn’t get my first choice. I’ve also been on short term contracts where my funding would end in a month, but I’ve been lucky and never gone more than a month without working. Those short term contracts feel quite threatening. I nearly turned my back on an academic career because I was running out of funding and I didn’t want to carry on playing that game… then I got the job at Bath!
What was your first job?
My first job was cleaning at an old people’s home. I cleaned 4 or 5 different homes and got £10 for my troubles! One of the worst jobs was in a factory folding cardboard boxes into shapes that would hold toilet roll holders. You had to fold 15 in an hour and it just shredded your fingers. It was very boring and tedious!
Where is your favourite holiday destination and why?
I’d have to say New York. I had a Research Fellowship which allowed me to live and work there for two years. I wrote to half a dozen labs in New York, telling them about my experience and that I wanted to shift my focus slightly. One said yes, and I got the Fellowship and moved out there! I lived there for two years and ended up getting married in New York. I’d never been there before I moved there, but to me it was the stuff of movies. When you live there, there’s some great communities that you become a part of which is so nice. We’re going back this summer and taking the kids. We always head to Lucy’s Bar in the East Village and there’s a takeout pizza place you have to go to afterwards! New York is a very special place with lots of happy memories.
What’s your favourite book or album and why?
I’ve always been a bookworm and I spent a lot of time going through my mum and dad’s bookcase. When I was about 12, I came across A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute. It’s a love story, an adventure story and semi-historical fiction. It’s a wide ranging story of a woman, living in Malaya at the outbreak of World War 2, and what happened to her and a group of women and children. She meets a couple of Australian soldiers and gets involved with one of them. After the war, they meet up and she goes to Australia and sees Alice Springs. I like the scale of it, the human story, the adventure, and the camaraderie between the women. I’ve read that book a few times since then, most recently in 2015 when we went to Australia and went to Alice Springs!
When are you happiest?
When I’m sat on the sofa with my kids watching a film, usually with hot chocolate! We’ve been working our way through Disney at the moment. They love Moana and The Greatest Showman.
If you could meet anyone in the world dead or alive who would it be and why?
Because we’ve been talking about books, I’d have to say Agatha Christie. I devoured all her books when I was about 11 and I suspect that the seeds of my interest in pharmacology comes from all the cool ways to kill people with poisons. I think I’m also right in saying she was a pharmacist too!
Which one superpower would you like to possess?
There’s two choices, which I’m struggling to choose between. One is the power of invisibility, like Harry Potter’s Cloak of Invisibility, so you can sneak up on people. Or the ability to fly, even though I’m afraid of heights. I think the sensation of being able to fly would be quite fun, although not too high… Maybe it should be the ability to hover!
What would people be surprised to learn about you?
Although I’m an innately shy person I think people might be surprised to learn that I love performing – as part of a choir. Over the years I’ve sung Gilbert and Sullivan at the Bristol Old Vic, Rachmaninov’s Vespers in Gloucester Cathedral, and cartoon jazz (think Pink Panther, the Flintstones, Top Cat…) as part of the Bristol Jazz Festival. There is something quite magical when you are part of a sound and you all manage to hit the 12-part harmony – not very often in my case, but I enjoy trying!
Tell us your favourite joke
Why can’t you trust atoms?
Because they make up everything.