Thank you to Dr James Smith – before he fades back into the shadows

Merry New Year! Those of you who have been keeping up with us know most of the Real Scientists admin-types are based in Australia in different cities, where there tends to be a bit of a long shutdown over the Christmas-New Year period.  With the advent of the holidays season, we felt it would be unfair to schedule one of our curators on, so we decided to take on the tweeting ourselves – and Dr James Smith, one of our administrators, blog writers and our go-to graphics guy came to our rescue.  Which was terrific in many ways – not only did we get to know James a lot better, but we got some gold-class discussions on science, the false separation of science from humanities and where a science career can take you, to name just a few topics traversed.  


James love for evo-devo (evolution and development) came like a lightning bolt from the sky in the form of a skilled biology 101 lecturer. One lecture and he was hooked on it for life. Ending up with a molecular biology degree and moving to Queensland to pursue a PhD in an evo-devo lab, James met his wife and one of our former curators, Dr Meg Wilson there.  After some more wrestling with research, James ended up leaving the lab, to work with researchers in a non-laboratory role:


ImageThe course of a scientific career never runs smooth. But the some of the best discussions of the week – apart from some excellent primers on molecular biology and developmental biology, and how to think about your PhD (we’ll have the Storifys of these discussions up soon) came from James’ engagement with the humanities. Too often, the sciences and the humanities are regarded as twains that will never meet, but James’ own background and experiences show how the critical thinking and analytical skills applied in both fields of knowledge can feed into each other and enhance the way we think about our research, whatever field it’s in.  Hopefully, with the changing nature of science careers and the increasing engagement with the sciences will result in more discussion and unique work.  On that note, here is one of the beautiful sciencey books Dr Smith was putting together for his sons:


So thank you so much James, for the brilliant discussions, taking time out from your holidays to tweet for us (and thanks Dr Megs!) and sorry the internet connections in rural NSW were not friendly to you.  Hmm. Maybe we should have you on again sometime soon.


We here at Real Scientists would like to thank you for supporting us over the course of our first year in 2013. It’s been a blast – a privilege and a pleasure to run this site and to host so many fantastic curators.  We look forward to your support and engagement over 2014.


Christmas cheers: Dr James Smith curates RealScientists


Hi, I’m RealScientists admin James Smith. You might remember me from such posts as ‘All the blog posts Upulie didn’t write’, and ‘Hey, these [Admin] tweets aren’t awkward at all!’. This week, however, sees my most challenging role yet: getting to do what I’ve been privileged to watch nearly fifty other researchers and communicators do since RealScientists kicked off in February of this year. I’m your curator for the next week. Merry Christmas.

Spirit Animal

The author and his spirit animal

Given the Christmas-New Year period is a bit like the midnight-to-dawn graveyard shift on radio, we really felt it wasn’t fair putting one of our enthusiastic applicant curators in for this week. Also – dammit – the team behind RealScientists have a lot of real science we can talk about. Between Upulie, Sarah, Renee, Bernard (our silent partner) and myself we have a prodigious history of bench research and teaching, science communication, research admin and related experience in pretty much any and every career path you can forge in and around science.

That’s certainly the case with me. BSc Hons in molecular parasitology at the University of NSW; PhD in developmental biology at the newly-minted Institute for Molecular Biosciences (also where our friend Marga Gual Soler completed her PhD), Uni of Queensland; then a headlong mashup of technical sales, undergrad teaching, research grant administration, postdoc research in evo-devo at Otago Uni, and stay-at-home househusbandry – in amongst moving countries, getting married, starting a family, and having a minor run-in with cancer – before being coaxed out of ‘retirement’ (OK being coaxed off the couch from watching ESPN) to become Research Manager for the Sir John Walsh Research Institute, a Research Centre of the University of Otago.

What’s the SJWRI do? We’ll get to that. Basically, all the research you can imagine fitting into the remit of a (NZ’s only) Faculty of Dentistry, from public health & epidemiology to microbiology to immunopathology to materials science. It’s about as broad and diverse a portfolio of research as you can imagine fitting into the same building, which makes it very cool.

What’s a Research Manager do? Pretty much all the things those other jobs on my CV do, mashed up into one do-everything role. Research – understanding the work of everyone in the Institute and how that fits more broadly into the local/international research landscape. Teaching – helping to mentor postgrad research students like PhDs through the process of becoming proper grown-up scientists. Selling – not to the researchers, but selling the researchers and their research to the funding bodies and the stakeholders of that research. (Which is everyone in the country, if you take a broad enough view.) Administration – because people who are good at research usually suck at stuff like keeping their research accounts in order and getting their funding applications in on time. Plus a huge wad of science writing, web stuff, event management and marketing & communications.

It’s actually a lot of fun, but it’s the sort of job you kinda have to make for yourself, around your particular skillset. Someone else would do this job completely differently. One of the themes I’d like to get to this week, is how YOU – in particular the research students amongst our followers – find those opportunities to broaden your skillset to make you more employable down the track. You may be a gun bench scientist, but if you have a bunch of other things you can do – and be recognised for doing them – it’s going to make your long term employment prospects a little more secure.

We’ll get to that, and the state of the research funding environment, and what we can all do to reinforce the role of science in society, and what goes on behind the scenes of RealScientists, and a bunch of other fun stuff. Really, though, I just want to trigger a few discussions, spark a few thoughts, but in as suitably laid back a manner as the season dictates.

And above all that, I and the rest of Team RealScientists want you all to have a relaxing, safe and enjoyable holiday this Christmas, or personally relevant seasonal spiritual/cultural festivity.