Meet the Hello Bio Team: Dr Sam Roome
In this new blog post series, we want to introduce you to the entire Hello Bio team, so you can get to know us a bit better. We’re a team of scientists (and friends!) who care passionately about supporting life scientists.
First up, meet Sam Roome, our Director of Marketing!
So Sam, did you always want to be a scientist when you were younger?
No, I didn’t!! My two sisters had very clear ideas as to what they wanted to do, right from an early age: one was obsessed by All Creatures Great and Small and wanted to be a vet, and the other always wanted to be a doctor. But unlike them, I didn't have any idea what I wanted to be when I was older. I had a lot of varied interests as a youngster though: at one point I wanted to be a concert violinist, then an author, and then a star of the stage and screen!
What made you pursue a career in the life sciences?
I was always interested in medicine and drugs (not recreational, of course!) and had chosen Science A Levels over English and Music, which I also loved. I just couldn't see myself as a doctor though: too many life or death decisions, and too many bodily fluids for my liking. I remember browsing all the university prospectuses at college one afternoon and discovering a subject called 'pharmacology'. It piqued my interest, and after a bit of researching around the topic, I decided that it was a good career move (with employment opportunities in both academia and drug companies as far as I could see). It seemed to be all the good bits of medicine, without having to deal with the squishy bits of people. So, I chose it for my degree course at Bristol University.
What was your PhD in?
I worked with Professor Hilary Little, in Graeme Henderson's department at the University of Bristol. My PhD investigated the long-term effects of ethanol withdrawal from chronic ethanol, looking specifically at effects on behaviour and neurochemistry, and comparing these effects with other commonly abused drugs. My work was focused around trying to explain why alcoholics experience alcohol cravings years after they give it up and stop drinking. I worked hard, and very long hours, but when I tell people I studied alcohol at university, I always get a raised eyebrow or two, and a knowing look! Ironically, I didn't drink alcohol during university, but after completing my PhD, and confirming all the long-term effects of ethanol on the brain, I started drinking. I blame it on stress, peer pressure, and Hooch!
What advice would you give someone just starting their PhD?
Try to be really organised with your time and your work, and write everything down. It might seem really daunting at first, with so many new techniques and new equipment, but it’s surprising how quickly things become automatic once you have done them a few times.
Don’t be worried about making mistakes and asking for help.
Remember that your supervisor is human, and has been where you have been, even if it was a very long time ago! They may appear to be a scary boffin, with an encyclopaedic knowledge of every piece of supporting literature that you will ever need, and a real skill for asking you questions about your experimental design, highlighting flaws that you had never even considered, but they know what you are going through – and they want you to achieve your very best!
What did you enjoy most about your PhD?
I'm afraid to say that it was the social life! I was president of the Bristol University Pharmacology Society so I helped to organise all sorts of things: pub quizzes, treasure hunts, parties, etc. I was working in a really great lab and department, with some lovely people. It was over 20 years ago now, but I am still in contact with the friends that I made there, and I do enjoy bumping into them every now and again at the conferences that Hello Bio exhibits at.
I suppose that I should also add that I did enjoy the science, and that is true! It was extremely satisfying when I got my first publication – I was very proud (as were my parents). And, I still clearly remember the jangling nerves and excited buzz that I got following my first oral presentation at a British Pharmacological Meeting, many, many years ago!
If you weren't a scientist what do you think you would be doing?
I think that I would have a career in music, probably as an orchestral player. I regularly play my violin in an amateur orchestra, and have even had the privilege of leading the orchestra a couple of times. Music was always a close second to science.
What is it about life science that gets you most excited?
In my experience, the day to day routines of science are not exciting. In fact, it can be really boring: lots of pipetting, data analysis, washing up, and routine. But what I think is really exciting is that out of the patience, the attention to detail, and the rigorous procedures, you can end up with data and results that can change someone's life. The idea that we (society) are almost there with a clinical drug for Alzheimer's because scientists have been patiently and exhaustively experimenting, getting their 'n's of 6, carrying out their controls, and quietly elucidating the mechanisms behind such a crippling condition, is jaw dropping.
Which scientists working today do you admire and why?
I recently listened to an interview with Jennifer Doudna, and was really inspired by what I heard. She has been (and is still) a leading figure in the development of the gene editing technique CRISPR – and has had a pivotal role in this technology that will have a huge impact on humankind. Beyond that, she also tries to educate around the ethical impact of this work, stepping outside of the lab to look at the bigger picture. I am completely in awe.
Also, how could I leave out our very own Scientific Advisory Board member Graham Collingridge, together with Timothy Bliss, and Richard Morris. They won the Brain Prize 2016 for their research on the cellular and molecular basis of a mechanism called “Long-Term Potentiation” and the demonstration that this form of synaptic plasticity is the basis of spatial memory and learning. Their ground-breaking findings will forever have an impact on research into learning and memory – what a legacy!
I am also slightly ashamed to say that I have a soft spot for British physicist and TV scientist Professor Brian Cox. He makes complex concepts (that usually numb my brain) accessible to anyone – so I have sneaky admiration for him. Coincidentally – we used to give away a pair of ‘Professor Brian Sox’ to conference delegates who visited the Hello Bio exhibition booth – but that’s another story!
What is your favourite scientist joke?
I can't help it, I really love the recent Science Meme showing a pic of Samuel L Jackson, and a mirror image of this pic: Samuel D Jackson! (See it here.) My background was working in a company that did a lot of work with glutamate ligands, so although I am not a chemist, I am pretty familiar with D and L stereochemistry. I saw that meme and it made me chuckle out loud. Pretty geeky I know!
What’s your favourite science quote?
“I am among those who think that science has great beauty” —Marie Curie
What do you think is the greatest scientific discovery of all time?
Well, I would have said the elucidation of the structure of DNA by Watson and Crick, but a close second would have to be the development of genome editing techniques such as CRISPR.
What do you enjoy most about working for Hello Bio?
Marketing is my thing these days. I enjoy coming into the office each day, having fun and being creative: learning about science, writing about science, and talking with scientists. I don’t research in the lab any more, but I know that what I am doing now, by helping to build a company like Hello Bio with the ethos that we have, is contributing to those wonderful new breakthroughs that ultimately will benefit a real person with a life-altering condition.