Monday, 25 April 2011

James: An Interview with Dr Tom Scott

When I was asked to interview someone from my research group I knew instantly the man to go to. Dr Thomas B Scott, PhD, MSci, Director of the Interface Analysis Centre (IAC) and Honorary Lecturer in Earth Sciences. The reason for this is I thought Tom’s mentality would be perfect for it, coupled with the fact I myself have found want to ask him questions about himself as he has risen to success early in life, something any aspiring academic would want to emulate.

Tom did his PhD here at Bristol in environmental geochemistry and mobility of uranium and its potential for uptake by iron and iron-bearing minerals, which he loved to such a degree that he stayed to do research, which lead into his current area of research: Nuclear materials - safe storage, environmental transport, structures and fundamental properties.

When asked why did you come into, and stay in, academia his response was: “I like the idea that any day you could come into the lab, run an experiment and find out something new that nobody has ever seen before. I'd also like to leave a positive mark on humanity by contributing something which helps make a better world”. I feel this shows the kid-like excitement of discovery and the hope to do good in the world. However, with being director and honorary lecturer Tom doesn’t just get to do research, as he pointed out himself, he misses working in the lab everyday (even if it is just to stop us making a mess). One of the extra things that Tom really enjoys about his job is getting new grant funding for the IAC, indeed in his own words "I like winning!" and "winning" grants at times has given Tom so much glee that he has run round the department for a round of hi-fives.

When asked what a typical day was in the life of Dr Tom Scott, the response surprised me somewhat:

Get up at 6.40am; breakfast; help get little ones fed; get dressed; help get little ones dressed; get to work by 8.45am after dropping off little ones at nursery; check emails; deal with urgent issues;  planned phone calls; meetings; 1-2 hours personal research work; 1 hour (or more) of student work and/or issues; Have lunch in office about 4pm; pick up little one by 5.15pm; get home and have dinner; get kids in the bath and then bed by 7.15pm; 8pm onwards check emails and continue working for a few hours; go to bed knackered and hope the little ones sleep through.

The things that stuck out to me most where the time he has to get up in the morning coupled with the time until lunch, add to that continuing to work after getting his children to bed. It gives me more respect for him, and I think in future will stop me being so miffed when I can not find him to help me with my own ends. I get up after him and never do work after I have left the office.

One of my more benign questions during the interview was: Do you work to music? Some people are very different, for instance I have music on constantly where as other require complete silence. Tom it turns out tends towards classical music most notably Ludovico Einaudi, an Italian composer and pianist. Little known fact, as well as being known in classical circles Ludovico has also done some music scores for films mostly in Italian but also ‘This is England’.

When asked about time out of the office at conferences and whether he thought them productive, he used the example of a conference in Slovakia he had just been to. To make the most of his time there he went with a “game plan":

1) Deliver a kick-ass talk that showed the AWE and all others attending that  in Bristol we're doing some fantastic science and have some fantastic facilities.
2) Then capitalise on the interest generated by my talk to cultivate international research links and collaborations with other senior researchers. Down the road this might lead to FP7 or similar funding.
3) Spend time with guys from the AWE, to strengthen relationships and engage in future research planning. This is VERY important.
4) Watch talks to improve my general background understanding in different areas of actinide/nuclear science. It’s also a prime opportunity to spot good PhD students from Europe that are close to finishing. I can then target them to bring them to Bristol on Marie Curie fellowships.
5) Have a few full nights of sleep.

This is quite different to the "jolly" I thought they were going on off to Slovakia, I was expecting it to be more like a holiday but on expenses.

Finally I wrapped up the interview by asking what Tom’s short and long term goals were. To which the response was some simple things like "go skiing" and "teach the kids to play tennis". Some personal challenges: "complete the 3-peaks and run another half marathon". Then there were loftier goals which are "grow the IAC; become a Professor; start and own a successful company; retire by 55; keep doing research for fun."

Posted by James.

1 comment:

RockA said...

The 3-peaks adventure sounds great to me. On the other hand it is interesting the game plan, and I'm keep with this
-Spend time with guys from the AWE, to strengthen relationships and engage in future research planning. This is VERY important.