Richard Wall is a Postdoctoral Research Associate in Dr Susan Wyllie’s Mode of Action group. Richard completed his PhD at the University of Nottingham in 2012 studying environmental pollutants and toxins in partnership with the Food and Environment Research Agency. After his PhD, Richard started as a Research Associate working with Plasmodium (parasite that causes malaria) and mosquitoes in the lab of Prof. Rita Tewari, where he worked on a variety of subjects such as parasite motility, cell division and drug discovery. Having particularly enjoyed this latter subject, Richard moved to Scotland in 2015 to join the newly formed mode of action group at Dundee. His current work focuses on identifying the molecular target/mode of action of new anti-parasitic compounds in Plasmodium, Trypanosoma brucei, Trypanosoma cruzi and Leishmania spp., the causative agents of malaria, sleeping sickness, Chagas’ disease and leishmaniasis, respectively. This information has a major impact on drug discovery programmes allowing the development of improved compounds. Of his highlights in Dundee so far, he identified the molecular target of Acoziborole, a potential future treatment for sleeping sickness that’s currently in phase II/III clinical trials.
Question: What is your earliest science memory ?
Answer: My school chemistry teacher setting fire to her lab coat – in a controlled way, of course. I knew at this point that science was the way forward.
Q: Did a particular person(s) or event start your career as a scientist?
A: Yes, I was very fortunate to have an unofficial mentor who I met through work experience when I was at school. They were instrumental in helping me to get to where I am today by providing encouragement and real-world advice i.e. things I didn’t want to hear at the time!
Q: What characteristics make a good scientist?
A: Patience (not every experiment works first time), critical thinker (need to evaluate your findings with an open mind) and curiosity (we want to know how things work).
Q: Do you think being a scientist impacts the way you approach everything in life?
A: The ability to be open minded, a key characteristic of a scientist, often means you can see both sides of an argument – not everyone appreciates this quality!
Q: Do non-science life experiences contribute towards success in the lab?
A: One of the best times to think clearly about my work with no distractions is when I’m on a long run…it certainly takes my mind off the last 5 miles…
Q: What motivates you to come into work every day?
A: Finding out how new drugs work is like nothing I’ve done before – at times it’s very much like solving a complex puzzle. We have to put the results of lots of different experiments together to find the answer and finding the answer/target is a great feeling!!
Q: Was there a ‘sliding doors’ moment when you could have chosen a different career path?
A: There’s been several occasions where I wasn’t sure where I would end up next. For example, after my PhD, which would most likely have led to working in regulatory toxicology (something that didn’t particularly excite me), I worked part-time for free for a short period in a lab working with mosquitoes whilst deciding what to do next. This was a great experience that introduced me to the world of parasites, led to a full-time postdoctoral position in the same lab and provided the skills I now use every day in Dundee.
Q: As an early career scientist what are the most important thing the more senior scientists can do to help you?
A:Obviously, praise is always appreciated but sometimes the best thing is constructive criticism – how can I improve my experiments? There’s a wealth of experience at Dundee making it a great environment to discuss exciting, new ideas and quickly forget the bad ones.
Q: Do you think the current research environment needs to change to a) improve life for the scientists and b) to adapt to the way research is now such a team and international effort? ?
A: I think the main way to improve the research environment is job security and, as with many occupations, an increase of funding to allow more junior researchers the opportunity to investigate their own research questions. The work we do is very much a team effort, and this has been crucial to our success over the years, and I think with the recent improvements in video calling, its never been easier to work with international collaborators.
At WCAIR we believe public engagement is a key priority for researchers.
Q: How do we help the science community and general public understand each other better?
A: I believe a stronger social media presence is key to interaction with younger members of the general public. Teaching students about the idea of ‘fake news’, giving them the skills to evaluate information independently and understanding that science opinion should always be evidence-based is incredibly important.
Q: What do you think scientists need to lean from the public?
A: I think we need to learn how to make things more accessible and relevant to the general public.
Q: Is there a science/natural world fact or concept (maybe) from another scientific field which excites and /or astounds you?
A: The idea that there are more stars in our universe than grains of sand on the Earth’s beaches is astonishing – and surely means it’s only a matter of time before we meet scientists from another world…?
Grew Up: Rural Shropshire
Favourite Book: The Great Gatsby, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night–time
Favourite Films: The Fifth Element, Léon and Gladiator
Favourite Box Set binges: Band of Brothers and Always Sunny in Philadelphia
Favourite computer games: Age of Empires, Command and Conquer and Tomb Raider
Favourite thing to do at the weekend: Adventure around Scotland
Desert Island Luxury: Fried chicken (with dips)