Gosforth Grammar (Newcastle) 1968-73, Whitehouse School (Brampton) 1973-75
Heriot-Watt, Biochemistry (but didn’t finish).
Royal Hospital for Sick Children, Edinburgh (1980-86). Imperial Cancer Research Fund, London (1986-89). University College London (1990-now)
UCL Institute of Ophthalmology
Professor of Biomedical Research – leading a team investigating eye disease.
Good luck to Charlie and Julian - only minutes to go!
Favourite Thing: My favourite thing is to talk about science. Whether it’s a group of non-scientist friends, my teenage kids and their friends, or other researchers at a conference, science is a source of countless interesting things to talk about.
Me and my work
I’m studying what happens to the cells of the eye when people lose their sight, and trying to find new ways of preventing sight loss
I was always mildly interested in science, but didn’t get really hooked until after University. I guess I found the teaching of science a bit uninspiring, but this was back in the ’70s and things have moved on a lot since then. I didn’t finish my degree because I was still committed to being a professional musician. My band (Avalon) was fairly successful (you can find 3 of our CDs on iTunes), but never earned enough to live on, so I found a job in a lab, which I discovered I really enjoyed. So I did the PhD, moved to London, became a science addict and ended up working on blindness and eye disease. This is an area of huge medical need, because so many of us are living longer, and our sight tends to fade as we get old. I’m lucky to work in a fantastic Institute, surrounded by many great eye researchers, and together we’re making exciting discoveries as to why eye disease happens, and when it does, what can be done to cure or prevent it.
My Typical Day
Lots of writing, talking to colleagues and the brilliant team in my lab, meetings (both boring and interesting), thinking, keeping up with the world outside on Twitter!
I cycle to work (about 6 miles), and first check and reply to emails and deal with post (not much these days, it’s all electronic). Most days there are one or two meetings to attend, which could be with my lab or colleauges, or less interestingly, to do with administration (yuk). I chat to the team in my lab about their work, we discuss latest results and plan the next set of experiments. And I write. Endlessly. Scientific papers, applications for money to do the research, reports for organisations that have given us money and so on. And I also read and evaluate such applications from other scientists. In the middle of all this I usually just have some fruit for lunch while I’m working, and eventually head home around 6.30 p.m.
What I'd do with the money
I’d buy a video camera so that work placement students who spend time in the lab can make video diaries to share with their schools, friends (YouTube etc) and use on our web site.
We have a regular stream of teenagers (mostly year 11 and 12) who come to our lab and spend a week seeing how science really works. I team them up with one of my PhD students or more senior researchers, and they see what kind of work we’re doing, how experiments don’t always work, and how things don’t always turn out as expected. I would like to arm those students with a video camera so that they can make a video diary of the time they spend with us. The videos would be great to post on-line, and for the students to share with their class-mates and teachers when they return to school.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Optimist, Scientist, Guitarist
Who is your favourite singer or band?
Loads of these, everything from Muse to Mozart
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Years ago, playing with my old band at a huge music festival in Denmark. Amazing buzz.
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
That one of the things we’re working on might be of tangible benefit to mankind. To take a year out to travel the world with my family. To play at Glastonbury.
What did you want to be after you left school?
Were you ever in trouble in at school?
Nothing worse than smoking behind the bike sheds.
What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?
A ridiculously long-shot experiment to try and find out why blood vessels become abnormal in some eye diseases. It worked, so we’re now using our findings to come up with new therapies!
Tell us a joke.
“Doctor, doctor, everybody keeps ignoring me”. “Next”.