From the phanerozoic and Australian fossils fauna to the state-of-the-art medicine, we welcome cancer researcher Dr Chris Slape to Real Scientists.
How Did you End Up in Science?
I was always going to be a scientist (or a mathematician) – in high school I loved maths and physics and *knew* (with the wisdom of youth) that I would end up in one of those two fields. I was always disdainful of biology as a field of study, because, at least at my school, it was derided as a “soft science”. During undergraduate university, I took a biology class that framed everything through the lens of evolution, really emphasising why everything is the way it is from an evolutionary point of view. I had never seen it that way before, and I was hooked. The one lecturer who really got me in with evolution was a botanist, which the younger me (and, it turns out, the older me) had absolutely no interest in.
What really motivates you about the work?
I think I’d be happy in any scientific field, really, because the exciting thing is finding out stuff that no one else knows about. Pushing the boundaries of human knowledge. Specific to my field, though, it is a great feeling to know that you’re working towards a cure (or a better understanding that could lead to a cure, however incrementally) for leukemia, which is, as everyone knows, often a very tragic disease.
You’ve spent some time in America as a postdoc, how did you find it?
I lived and worked in Washington DC for five years. I loved it. Washington is a great city, not as big as I thought before I moved there, but big enough and certainly important enough, and it has so many things to do and see and is so well planned and picturesque … it’s just a fantastic place to live. I’m a big fan of American sports, particularly baseball, and when I moved there everyone was surprised (as was I, a little) that I was moving to an American city without a baseball team (and a stupid football team, but I digress). But then, after my first two years there, the Washington Nationals relocated from Montreal, and I went to *every* game (not really). I also think those five years were the most productive of my career, partly through the support of great mentors and colleagues, and partly through the generous funding, the only time in my career I didn’t have to think about how to pay for an experiment before I did it.
Any hobbies or sport interests we should know about?
I suck at hobbies and sports. Um. I am a runner, and I have *trained for* three marathons, *started* one and *finished* … zero. Every time I have been injured in the late stages of training. But I am resilient, and will one day do it. I’ve run a few half-marathons, and love just getting outside and getting some endorphins. I don’t really have any interesting hobbies. I like reading, seeing films, usual boring crap. Sorry. I like Batman? Actually the Flash is my favourite comic book superhero. He’s awesome.
You’ve recently gotten into science communication..how and what is it that draws you to it?
Have I? Oh. Um, I don’t know. I guess maybe I spent so long learning about genes and proteins and cells and whatnot, and then I finally felt like I was knowledgeable enough to use that knowledge to do something good with it… but I couldn’t explain to any of my family or friends what it was I was doing, because they didn’t have the same grounding. So I think there’s a real divide between what scientists do and what they can/do meaningfully explain to the public, and it’s closing that gap that is the challenge. I think it’s important that we do close it, or narrow it. So many decisions that we make as a society require an understanding of (a basic level of) scientific knowledge, and I think often the decisions are made in the absence of that knowledge. To society’s detriment. See recent Australian electoral results.
You also recently participated in I’m a Scientist, Get Me Out of Here. How did you find it?
I’m A Scientist was a great experience for me. It was the first formal scientific communication event I did, and the thing that really overwhelmed me was the enthusiasm from the students I interacted with. They actually *wanted* to know and understand what it was I did (along with a lot of other stuff that I didn’t know about and had to google), and that encouraged me to think more about how I, as a scientist, could more meaningfully interact with and inform the public. It’s not easy to do, particularly as no working scientist has a ton of time up their sleeves, but it is worthwhile, important and enjoyable, so I look forward to doing more of it. (Like, can I start tweeting already?)
Yes, you may start tweeting already. We have a cancer researcher you can ask qustions about! Please welcome Chris Slape to the Real Scientists community.