“Keep yourself open for when things come along.” An obvious example for this would be Fleming with penicillin – it came through an open window.
“Be yourself. All the others are taken.”
Despite Baroness Susan Greenfield’s valuable research into Parkinson’s Disease, and international recognition in several countries, in England she is often attacked and seen as being anti-technology. She has a huge knowledge and understanding of the plasticity of the brain and so as a scientist, she raises questions about how isolation and screen-time can affect young brains. In South Korea, internet addiction has been recognised as a disease, and there are programmes designed to treat it.
“I would define myself as a research scientist. That is always at the centre and all the others are like the spokes of a wheel. That is the cohesive element to all I do. The research on the brain which then can find expression in other ways.
Family and heritage is central. On my father’s side I inherited the Jewish culture, cultural rather than religious, as he was an atheist. His family was Orthodox Jewish, but he married out with my mother. The sort of values I inherited were rather similar to Asian values I see in some of my students . Very strong sense of family. A very, very great respect for older people. A respect for education, value of extended family.”
“Forget about running for a bus, when it’s too difficult to even smile at people. It is difficult to get the dosage right, the side effects of madopa and the shaking. There are knock on effects and effects on the family as well the psychological effect. How terrible it is for families.”
“Resources, are one obstacle. Many people don’t realise how expensive research is, not just the salaries of the people in your teams, it’s the consumables, and the premises. People are very reluctant to embrace new ideas, they’d rather stick with traditional or accepted approach. Now that I’ve started my own company, it is much happier way of funding things. With committees and panels every where in the world risk aversions can creep in. As for Parkinson’s, I certainly wouldn’t want to say we’re on the way to solving it. I’d much rather say there are grounds for hope and we’re on the case.
I was in for a science prize in the states. When I came second, a male colleague rang. He said, well you are foreign and you are a woman. It was said in all kindness, that will explain everything. A foreigner and a woman.”
Achievements in Australia
“I was Thinker in Residence in Adelaide for summer of 2004, 2005, on how to bring in new initiatives and new ideas. It was very exciting. It was so much easier working in Australia. People were far less judgmental, more working in a team, and I felt confident to do things I wouldn’t do here.”
Difference between working in France, Australia and UK
“In England, people are much more self conscious, less team work, more competitive, much more nastiness. I’m thinking of the press. I’ve got the T shirt on that. I was on the Andrew Denton show in Australia. Bracing myself for a very in depth interview, for a side swipe.
Not at all. We just stayed on the science. Just the facts and the science, none of the gossip. Greater maturity there. But if you have a hierarchy, as we do here, people will be more competitive.
In France, in the laboratory it is very much 50/50 men and women. In France you’re invited back to someone’s house, to be introduced to their family.
In Australia, people are very oriented into team working, more collegiate, team work and even to socialise after work. Someone will open a tab, a concept I fatally learnt in Australia and then you’ll be there until 11pm.
My most memorable moment was introducing the Queen to my mum and my dad. It was when I was director of the Royal Institution. The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh came to open the RI. As Director, it was my call to show them around the opening of the refurbished Royal Institution. This is a pure chance snap shot, which for me is very special.”
“Most things seem to happen by serendipity. I know this is not a scientific thing to say, but I often think that things happen for a reason which often pays out. Odd ideas come from no where. Or you’ll meet someone who, just at this time, has just the skills you need.
At a beach party in Geelong, outside Melbourne, a colleague had brought along some young women scientists who had won awards. One had just finished a PHD on video games. I asked her to contribute, to read and see that I was across the literature, for my latest work. She then became a collaborator on the book. I met her at the right place, right time, she had the right skills, even if I’d advertised for someone, I wouldn’t have found anyone as perfect as Olivia Metcalf, alumnus of ANU.”