Favourite Thing: Starting antibiotics when a patient is really sick, and seeing them get better because it was the right antibiotic. Then I feel as if I’ve got one up on the bugs!
Ysgol Maes Garmon Comprehensive School, Mold, North Wales 1980-87; Cambridge University 1987-92
Medical degree; specialist qualifications in general medicine and medical microbiology; research degree (PhD) in tuberculosis
First I spent 4 years as a junior doctor in casualty and general medicine, then I specialised in Medical Microbiology at the Royal Free Hospital London, and did a PhD there, before moving to my current job in 2006.
Clinical Senior Lecturer and Honorary Consultant Microbiologist
Me and my work
I’m a medical microbiologist, and in our lab we grow bugs which can range from friendly bacteria to deadly superbugs, to diagnose patients with infections.
In the lab, we receive samples from patients, like urine, or blood, or even toenail clippings – anything really! – and look for signs of infection in them. We try to grow bugs from them, or look for the bugs’ genes or proteins to prove they are there. We then do tests to see which antibiotics will work for each case.
We advise other doctors and nurses on how to diagnose and treat patients with infections.
We work on preventing infections from spreading between patients, or between staff and patients.
Here’s Rachel looking for food-poisoning bugs from some poo samples!
And here’s Hilary testing blood samples for syphilis, which is a sexually transmitted infection.
This is the ‘anaerobic cabinet’ – some bugs can’t grow in air which contains oxygen and we have to keep them in a special atmosphere inside this cupboard. The dangly white things are sleeves to put your arms in so you can do things in the cabinet without opening it to the air.
My Typical Day
On a typical on-call day I arrive at about 8.30 and start checking lab results – the really important ones I phone direct to the patients’ doctors. I get lots of calls about ill patients with infections and give advice, and might visit intensive care to discuss all the patients’ antibiotic treatment. I go home at the end of the day but am on-call and available by phone all night too.
If there’s an outbreak of infection we attend outbreak control meetings to help decide what to do. We go and see patients on the wards as well as intensive care to decide how to treat them and what tests to do. It’s quite varied. We do a week at a time on-call (24 hours, for 7 days including the weekend), on a rota.
Here’s Mike, our resident virus expert, with a giant cardboard virus!
Close-up of Mike’s cufflinks!
And here’s Ian, he’s the lab manager and we all have to do what he says!
In other weeks, I do research in the University. I study how bacteria can go dormant (go to sleep) in infections and what wakes them up again. I also do research into a tummy bug called Cryptosporidium, which can get into water and cause diarrhoea. This is the view of beautiful Swansea Bay from our research labs.
Here are two of the other medical microbiologists in our department – Ann and Bassam. They’re great to work with and if there’s a patient with a difficult problem I discuss with them to get their opinions – often there’s no right or wrong answer and it’s really useful to see what others think.
What I'd do with the money
In September, I am planning a ‘Science Cafe’ evening with talks about infectious diseases for school students and members of the public to visit our department. It can only go ahead if I get some funding!
A Science Cafe is an event where anyone who is interested can go and listen to a talk by an expert in a particular subject. The talk is for members of the public and is usually funny, entertaining and interesting. If there’s one in your area I recommend them! I’ve called my event a ‘micro-mash’ on infectious diseases and have been applying for funding for it to take place. I hope there’ll be a talk on the spread of TB and school students doing science will be invited and shown round our department. The date is already set for the 12th of September – if it’s funded!
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Conscientious. Busy. Down-to-earth.
Who is your favourite singer or band?
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Sailing the English channel overnight
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
Good health; to see my children grow up happy and healthy; an iPad!
What did you want to be after you left school?
Were you ever in trouble in at school?
Not seriously but I was one of those people who always got caught by the teacher if I did try anything!
What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?
Diagnosed meningitis bugs in a sample under the microscope, and made sure treatment was started straight away.
Tell us a joke.
What do you call a monkey with a stick of dynamite? BABOOM!