Q&A with Michael Rathbone, CRS Academic Scientist


1. How did you arrive at your current university?

I have had experience in both academia and industry before I came to my current position.  After graduating with a PhD from Aston University, Birmingham, UK, I spent 8 years in two different academic institutions in New Zealand before spending 14 years running a small veterinary pharmaceutical R&D company in the North Island of New Zealand. When I decided to look around for a new position, an academic position at Griffith University was available.  It attracted me as it was a new school with junior staff undergoing rapid change, and change was something I was used to managing and coping with while working in a small pharmaceutical company that had to be nimble to survive.  I thought it would be a good fit.

2. When did you first know that you wanted to be a scientist?

I always wanted to be a scientist from my early school days.  I became interested in Pharmacy when I studied Biomedical Sciences at a local Technical College in Coventry, England.  A guest lecturer was a pharmacist and I was inspired by him to pursue a career in Pharmacy.  After completing an Ordinary National Diploma in Biological Sciences at Coventry Technical College I studied for my undergraduate degree at Leicester Polytechnic and PhD at Aston University.

3. When you finished graduate school, why did you choose to stay in academia instead of going into industry? 

After completing my PhD I pursued a career in academia instead of industry because at that time I had always envisioned I was destined to be an academic since I enjoyed lecturing and desired the freedom to research any topic without constraint.

4. How has your unique background assisted you in your career?

I have a unique background as I have an unparalleled experience of the veterinary pharmaceutical industry from innovation, research, development, QC, manufacturing scale-up and registration.  This wide range of experience has arisen due the high ambitions of a small company that eventually registered its premier product on the US market.  We were the first company in NZ to achieve the goal of US registration.

5. What advice would you give to an aspiring young academic? 

The best advice I can give a young scientist is to seek advice ... from everyone and anyone.  You can read all you like, but experience is the key to success and a short cut to extending your experience is to tap into others!

6. What do you regard as the most significant achievement(s) of your scientific career thus far?

My most significant achievement was the registration of a product that my team optimised, on the USA market.  That took an intense 5 years of our lives!!!!

7.  Which scientists have inspired you in your career and how did they inspire you?

Scientists who have inspired me include Joe Robinson, Hans Junginger, Sandy Florence and Jorg Heller - not only because of their scientific achievements, but also because they freely gave their time to me (and hundreds of others) to pass on their knowledge and insights.  Jonathan Hadgraft has inspired me since I was a PhD student.  He was one of the first scientists whose work I had to read and understand (his pioneering work with the Rotating Diffusion Cell).  Since those early days of just seeing his name on a paper, I have got to know him and he is an exceptionally talented scientist.  A person who has recently inspired me is a young Indian scientist called Himanshu Gupta.  His capacity for work is enviable and he has inspired me to try and match his youthful enthusiasm for outputs!!!  Finally, Jenny Dressman has been so inspiring to me.  In my view she has been one of the best CRS Presidents this Society has had.  Her unquestionable commitment to the Society in her year as President will always inspire me.

8. Did you have a mentor(s) and how did they guide you along your career? 

I never really had a mentor.  I just tried to speak to as many established scientists as I could.  Each year I helped myself by having a batch of questions that I wanted to ask and I would seek out likely prominent scientists who I thought may be able to answer them at Annual CRS Conferences!!  Of course, I asked the same question to many different scientists in order to get a broad range of insights.  It originally took a bit of a nerve to go up to them .... until I realised that all established scientists inherently believe that it is their duty to give something back to the science that has given them so much, and offering advice to younger scientists is one way they can do that.  

9. How do you come up with your ideas for grants and/or papers?

There is no formula for coming up with new ideas ... they arise out of your research due to an inquisitive mind.  Just let yourself freely question everything you do and everything you see, and new ideas will arise.  

10. Looking back, what are some things that you wished someone had told you when you were starting out in your academic career? 

Not really, since your career evolves.  I am proud of what I have achieved and the pathway that resulted in me achieving it.  If someone had given me advice at a certain (earlier) stage, then that could have sent me down a different path and I may not be here writing down my current experiences or thoughts.  Besides, advice is great and it’s useful, but you don't have to follow it.  YOU decide YOUR direction and how YOU achieve it.

11. What skills or attributes do you think make for a good academic?

The skills I have that make me a good academic include: good verbal and communication skills, a love of life-long learning, and a desire to inspire and educate others.

12. What do you think is the biggest misconception about being an academic?    

The biggest misconception about being an academic is that it is an easy option compared to industry.  It isn't because you have so much freedom to do what you want, when you want, how you want ..... and that requires discipline and excellent personal time management skills, particularly in the area of prioritisation. In fact, now I come to think about it, IF you have the previously stated 2 attributes, then it is an easy option!!!!  But unfortunately most of us don't possess these skills at the highest level that is required to make life as an academic easy!!     

13. Outside of your scientific research, what hobbies do you enjoy? 

I love fly fishing .... or in the absence of fly fishing - any fishing.

14. Which scientific discovery do you wish that you had contributed to in history?   

I don't really wish I had made any scientific discovery that anyone else had made.  I am content that I have achieved what I have achieved within my capability.  Besides, the sort of discoveries that I am enviable of are well outside my capability or depth of understanding!!!  To have achieved them would have eaten into too much of my fishing time!!  Be content with YOUR achievements, not envious of others!!!  And enjoy life ..... Tight lines!

15. Name five things on your desk right now? 

Computer, business cards, stapler, a pile of work (in a semi prioritised order), and a picture with a slogan saying "Fish Naked .... You  May Catch The Big One"

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