ryan_m_b - biology

Interview with Biologist Ryan_m_b

Meet a Mentor is a fun series to help you get to know your wonderful Mentors better.

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Today we meet: @Ryan_m_b

Give us a brief history of Ryan_m_b

I’m in my mid-twenties, spent most of my life living in a small town on the border of the country side but not too far from the outskirts of London. As a kid I loved spending as much time as possible out in the woods or hiking through the fields. Somewhere along the line I caught the science bug and from that point couldn’t see myself doing anything else. I moved to Brighton (the best city in the UK, hands down) and enrolled in a Biology degree. Came out of that feeling like I knew less than I did at the start (Thanks Dunning-Kruger!) and went on to specialise in regenerative medicine/nanomedicine with a masters in London. I took a few years after that doing internships and odd jobs, pretty common for most post-grads given the lack of jobs until last October being taken on for a PhD. I still live in London and am working on a novel treatment for prosthetic joint infections.

Tell us about your time in the UK. What are you favorite parts?

I’ve done a fair amount of travelling but I’ve never lived outside the UK. Maybe doing that would change my opinion but I really do like living in this country, most of the time. My favourite place in the UK would have to be Brighton. It’s a small city on the south coast famous for its liberal nature. It has a huge LGBT community, is very liberal (which as a colloquial descriptive means something different in the UK than the US) and is remarkable to me for how friendly the place is. There’s a real culture of live and let live, you can do and be anything and be accepted. There are constantly interesting things going on from art exhibits to great gigs (not to mention Pride) and unlike other parts of the UK it’s quite easy to chat and make friends with complete strangers. So yeah, Brighton. If you have a chance go there in the summer :)

Tell us about your avatar 

It’s a C60 molecule, the posterboy/molecule for a lot of nanotechnology. Inside is a small ball, I can’t remember what the artist intended it to be but for me it’s a great picture illustrating one of the best and most readily available uses of nanomedicine: drug delivery. There’s a huge need for a toolkit of nano/microparticles that can reliably deliver a payload to a specific site in the body, whether it be antibiotics, RNA or chemotherapy agents it’s exciting to think of the potential of good quality delivery systems.

What parts of your biology education/training were/are difficult and how did you overcome them?

Exams. I have never been good with them, still am not particularly great. Throughout my education from school and beyond my grades have always had a huge disparity between coursework (often getting top or good marks) and exams (average at best). I’ve always suffered from a lot of anxiety around exams which can really screw up my ability to revise and sit an exam. Rather than calmly reading through a topic and answering a question there have been times I’ve reacted like a headless chicken and not given the best work I could have. I’ve worked constantly to overcome this, and similar anxiety about work in general. There’s still a long way to go but my best advise for anyone else is to break every task down, massively! I mean it, I write lists of things to do that often start with something as small as “open book to page X” or “type X into google”. It sounds silly but I find it so much easier and less stressful to approach a difficult task (or one which has a lot riding on it) as a long list of trivial subtasks. If anyone reading this (and honestly if you’ve got this far well done) has any similar tricks I’d like to hear them :)

Which scientists were most important to you while growing up and through your studies?

Tough question. From my experience here at PF and working with colleagues from different fields I’d say that biology is less person orientated than other fields. There are always physicists and the like that are easily identifiable from the outside and who historically have inspired people towards science (people like Sagan or Feynmann). I’d say that I’ve never really looked at any scientist, beyond the ones that trained me, and used them as a role model. Of course that may also be because my field is very new and there aren’t many big names in the same way.

How did you become interested in Nanotechnology and Regenerative Medicine?

Medicine has always been a big passion of mine. From a young age I had several family members with long term illnessess as well as a family members that either worked in or in some way supported the NHS. For me healthcare is one of the most important factors of society (I’d even go so far as to argue that public health metrics are a far better measure of a nation’s success than GDP) and I’ve always wanted to be involved in that. There are so many unmet medical needs and whilst conventional fields are fantastic I was drawn towards nanotech and regenerative medicine because of how new the fields are and how much potential they have. On the first day of visiting a regenerative medicine lab for an interview I was shown an artery, a trachea and an ear all growing in separate bioreactors for patients that needed them. How could anyone say now to a career where that is a thing?

Is there recent research in biology that excites you?

So much yes. Within my field I’m very excited about the prospect of platform technologies for tissue engineering. At the moment there are a wealth of experimental techniques with very different strengths and weaknesses e.g. synthetic versus natural polymers, type and extent of biofunctionalisation, in vitro requirements etc. I’m always on the look out for technologies, like plastic collagen compression that I work with, that could be applied to a range of different conditions. I think in the long run having versatile products that are well established and well studied will make it a lot easier to develop new therapies.

Who is your favorite philosopher, why and what is your favorite quote/passage of theirs?

I used to read a lot of philosophy, particularly philosophy of science. I think fundamentals like this can make you a better scientist, if only by appreciating the history of discovery. If I had to offer a quote it would have to be something from Karl Popper: “Science may be described as the art of systematic oversimplification”. It’s a good one to bear in mind when we consider that as scientists we construct models on how the world works and all models are simplified and ultimately wrong. Their utility comes from how wrong they are.

What are some of your favorite movies, books and musicians?

Books: Anything by Charles Stross otherwise I’m not particularly fussed (will preferably consume a lot of science fiction though). The question of what my favourite film is always stumps me, I can never thing of any film when it’s asked. In fact most of the time I don’t watch movies or TV shows (though I will regularly session Archer and Game of Thrones) but am subscribed to a bunch of youtube channels, some producing educational/thought-provoking content (like crash course history) and others that are simply entertaining (slow mo guys). There are even a few let’s players in my sub list which as a medium I find both entertaining and fascinating despite not being a gamer.

How did you happen upon Physics Forums and why is it important to you?

Do you know I can’t actually remember how I started here? I could go back and look at my first post but that would be cheating. I do know that I visited PF many times over it’s history simply because it would be one of the best links that would pop up whenever I had a question to google. I’ve been here ever since because I think it’s a fantastic service with a great community (supported by some very dedicated volunteers). There are endless forums out there and answers services but few have such a clear goal of providing accurate answers and discussions on science without the distraction of personal theories or pseudoscientific confusion. Don’t get me wrong: exploration and debunking of ideas is great, just not here. Here is where I, and I think many others, come to learn in an appropriate and friendly environment. I can’t see myself not being here for a very long time.

Thanks for participating Ryan_m_b!

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