is gone! Oh well, been fun.... best of luck everyone else!
Great Sankey High School (1990-1995), Barrow Hall College (1995-1997)
University of Sheffield (1997-1998), Lancaster University (1998-2000)
PhD at the University of Manchester (2000-2004), Post-doctoral research scientist at the University of California, San Francisco (2004-2007)
Research Fellow in the Immunology group at the University of Manchester
University of Manchester (2007-present)
Finding out how the immune system is controlled to keep us healthy.
I am the head of a research lab at the University of Manchester that studies how amazing the immune system is. The immune system is made up of loads of cells and molecules that aim to fight off any nasty infecions that enter the body. However, there are ‘good’ immune responses and ‘bad’ immune responses. ‘Good’ immune responses are those that happen when we get infected with something horrible, and need to be triggered as quickly as possible to stop the infection spreading (making us feel really ill). However, ‘bad’ immune responses result in our immune system attacking things they really shouldn’t. Such ‘bad’ immune responses can cause allergies, some of which are not too bad (e.g. allergy to pollen = hayfever) but some that can be really serious (e.g. food allergies to things like peanuts, shellfish). Even more seriously, ‘bad’ immune responses can sometimes lead to the immune system attacking the organs and tissues of your own body, leading to so-called autoimmune disease. For example, if the immune system attacks certain cells of your pancreas, you can get diabetes; if the immune system attacks your guts, you can get inflammatory bowel disease. So, we study the cells and molecules that balance the ‘good’ versus ‘bad’ immune responses to keep us healthy.
Our main interest at the moment is in the gut. In this part of the body, there are trillions of bacteria that are important in helping us stay healthy. But how on earth does our immune system know that these bacteria are good guys and shouldn’t be attacked!?
Out of work, I am married to my childhood sweetheart Heidi (who I have been with since I was 17 years old), and we have two beautiful daughters together, Sophie (nearly 3 years old) and Isabelle (8 months old). So, when not doing science I have my hands pretty much full being a dad! I do manage to squeeze in playing football a couple of times a week (although I may need to start researching a cure for slowness and lack of fitness associated with old age if I am going to keep this up….), and run the odd half-marathon to try to keep up my fitness levels up.
My Typical Day:
Planning experiments, and convincing people that the experiments we have done or plan to do are good.
I do a little bit of teaching of students, but the majority of my typical day is spent thinking about the research we do. This involves planning new exciting ways to try and answer important questions, as well as thinking about whether the experiments we are doing at the moment are going the way they should be and, if not, what should be done to fix them. I think members of my lab get fed up with me coming up with new ideas before the older ideas are anywhere near finished!
As well as thinking, there is plenty of doing- although I don’t get my hands dirty in the lab half as much as I would like to nowadays. An important part of my job is to raise money to buy the things we need to do experiments, and to pay the salarys of the people in my lab. To raise these funds, we need to find ‘grants’ where we convince other scientists that our ideas for experiments are good enough for them to give us some cash! So, a lot of my time involves writing these grants, or trying to write up our interesting findings to publish in scientific journals (which is very important to convince people that the research you are doing is good and worthwhile).
What I'd do with the prize money:
Fund events to get school and college students to come to our labs and see first-hand what being a scientist is all about.
At the University of Manchester, I am part of a group that organises several events that help school and college students to see for themsleves what a career as a scientist is all about. For example, last year we organised an event that got underprivileged students from local high schools to visit our labs and engage with a range of scientists to learn about the research we carry out. Also, we run ‘A’-level study days where A-level students visit and carry out problem-solving-based practical sessions, followed by a meet-and-greet with scientists at various levels of their career. The money would enable us to run a number of similar events in the next few months.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
determined, enthusiastic, chilled
Were you ever in trouble at school?
No- I was a bit of a goody two-shoes! I did used to get a bit of a telling off for distracting other people, but nothing that was going to get me sent to the headmaster.
Who is your favourite singer or band?
Used to be Oasis, before they started being not so good and then broke up! Like all sorts, ranging from The Beatles and Elvis to my guilty pleasure of Trance and House
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Had kids- no matter what kind of day you have had, they will always put a smile on your face. Also, living and working in San Francisco for 3 years in my mid-20s was an absolute blast.
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
Just one needed- but it is quite a big one: For myself, my family and friends to live long, happy, fulfilled lives.
Tell us a joke.
Please note that in the ‘describe yourself in 3 words’ section, one of the words was not ‘funny’……. I rang the Swine Flu National helpline recently for some advice, but it was useless- all I got was crackling. I’ll get my coat…..