Just Do It!

Craig picWe are really looking forward to working with Dr.Craig Slattery during this years festival! We met up last week and enjoyed a chat to find out a little bit more about his science career to date and what drives him  …

I know you are from Tullamore originally Craig but where has your career taken you over the past decade?
The great thing about science is that it is a truly international endeavor and a science qualification gives you huge flexibility to travel and work overseas. After my PhD, I moved to Australia with my wife and took up a postdoctoral research position in the University of Queensland. It was a hugely enjoyable time and allowed us to travel all over the southern hemisphere. It was also a really fantastic opportunity career-wise. When we returned to Ireland a few years later, I was able to secure research funding on foot of my work in Australia. We really underestimate how well regarded the Irish education system is internationally. Awards from Irish higher education institutes really carry weight and open doors.

Can you tell us what is your current role at UCD?
My current role in UCD is as a Biomedical Researcher and a Specialist Lecturer. I am a member of a team of researchers called the Renal Disease Research Group, which is led by Dr. Tara McMorrow. We focus on a range of diseases and toxicities that can affect the kidneys. At the moment I am focused on diabetes as it is themain cause of kidney disease. We are part of a large EU project that aims to discover new ways to prevent diabetic kidney disease and to find new drugs to treat it.

What advice would you give young students considering a career in science?
Just do it! I know that sounds ridiculously corny but if you have any interest in science you will not regret it. It’s very important to study something that you have a passion for. That way, when things get tough around exam time, your natural interest will help to drive you on. As a bonus, science qualifications are hugely flexible and very attractive to prospective employers across many different fields.

How do you think we could make science more attractive to young people?
The funny thing is I don’t think you have to work very hard to get young people interested in science. Young people are naturally drawn to science. Children are natural experimenters. If you spend 5 minutes with a toddler you very quickly realize that they are constantly asking‘why?’, ‘how?’, and ‘what if?’  And when they figure something out you can see their excitement and satisfaction. That is science … our natural inquisitiveness at work. What we need to do is make sure that this thirst for knowledge and discovery doesn’t get eroded as they grow up. A great way to do that is by encouragingyoung people to keep asking questions as they go through school and try to structure their learning experiences and environments around this.

Is there anything you would really love to investigate further if you had no limitations?
I am fascinated by how the human body keeps track of its biological age over decades. We’re beginning to understand some parts of this puzzle and it’s going to lead to new treatments for a whole range of diseases. But I would be interested to see if we could ultimately manipulate our biological clocks on a grand scale? Could we slow down aging and dramatically extend the human lifespan? Who knows.

Why is it important to host and support events such as the Midlands Science Festival do you think?
The vast majority of scientific research around the world is funded by public money. I think any event that brings scientists and the public into closer contact, allowing the people to see the return on this investment is extremely important. Just as important though is getting people thinking, and talking about science and it’s role in our society. In the past, this sort of event has generally happened at a national level (i.e. in the cities!). Having a Science Festival in the Midlands where people can go to their local pub and hear from a world leading scientist like Professor O’Neill is fantastic and I really hope it is embraced. Added to that, the variety of different types of events that have been organised from school visits and workshops, to coffee mornings and movie nights, really means there is something for everyone.