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I was born in London, England in February 1945 and have two sisters;
one older and one younger. At school, the only thing that I was really good
at was Biology. I usually came top of my class but never did any work; somehow,
Biology just fitted into my brain without any effort on my part.
Non-science subjects were a disaster. I had to repeat a year to
pass English, got kicked out of French and Woodwork, dropped
Geography and failed History.
At that time (1963) in England, there were only three Universities that didn't have an entry requirement for a foreign language - London, Leicester and Hull. I wanted to do Biochemistry (not that I really knew what it was) but London and Leicester wouldn't accept me. By chance I discovered that a new Biochemistry department was opening in the University of Hull and that's where I ended up. I guess that not many students had applied. That Biochemistry Department has since closed.
Although I didn't fail any subjects at University, I ended up with quite mediocre results [more time in the pub than in the library, I'm afraid] and decided that further studies were not for me. When I graduated in 1966 I got a job as a research assistant in one of the Unilever Research laboratories in England. Although it was a reasonably secure job and allowed me to get a taste of research, I was not the master of my own destiny so, after two years, I decided to try to do a PhD. Due to my ordinary University results, nobody in the UK would accept me but, by a lucky coincidence, one of the scientists David Dennis in the same lab had just been offered an academic position in the Biology Department at Queen's University in Canada and asked me if I wanted to go with him as his first graduate student. Strangely, I arrived there a couple of days before him and I had the curious experience of introducing my supervisor to members of the Department.
I spent four years at Queen's, doing a Masters first (1970) and then a PhD (1972). All of this work involved studying the properties of various enzymes from plants. Around this time I got interested in protein chemistry and decided to do a postdoc in a sequencing lab, ending up with Emil Smith at UCLA. I did not get on with Emil at all and after three months had decided that I had learned all that I wanted to about protein sequencing. Although I was supposed to stay there for two years, I left after one year and got another postdoc with Harvey Kaplan at the University of Ottawa where I stayed until early 1975.
I was being paid from a Canadian Government Fellowship but this was due to expire in September 1975 so I needed to find a job. Although I wanted to stay in Canada, I couldn't find a job and happened to see an advertisement for a position with John Morrison at the Australian National University in Canberra. What he was looking for matched my interests and experience very closely so I changed countries again. This job was as a Research Fellow, which is a sort of glorified postdoc. The trouble was, it was fixed-term (three years, extendable to five) so, by 1979, I was on the job market again.
Most of my career seems to have been dictated by lucky coincidences and fate intervened again. A rather undesirable job was on offer in the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Queensland, filling in for a Lecturer who was teaching Nutrition in Asia. Since I had nowhere else to go and was offered the position, I took it. I was on a month by month contract and this situation continued from October 1979 till December 1981. By this time, the Lecturer that I was filling in for had left and so a permanent job was available. Although it had to be advertised, I had the inside track having been doing the job for more than two years.
It may seem odd but I find that I have very little to say about the next 25 years of my career. I gave lots of undergraduate lectures but as time went on class sizes grew, standards dropped and the students became increasingly surly, disorderly and disinterested. I sat on committees and attended meetings but rarely was much achieved. And I built up a research lab; this was the most satisfying part of my career. I was fortunate to nurture many excellent research students, notwithstanding the few duds. Plenty of publications resulted; click here for details.
By 2000 I had just about had enough and resolved to retire when I turned 60 in 2005. As it turned out, there were projects to finish and research students to see through until completion so I did not actually retire until 2007. I have had no regrets about leaving and I'm pretty sure that the university was glad to see the back of me.