News

Reflections on the career of Dr Simon Easterbrook-Smith


10 December 2009

Presented at the Celebration of Academic Careers dinner on 19th November 2009.


Dr Simon Easterbrook-Smith retires officially on Jan 2 2010 but began his accrued leave on Feb 2 this year so we have already missed his presence in MMB this year.

His research area had been protein chemistry, enzymology, biophysical methods and immunology; and his latest studies were on clusterin, an extracellular chaperone. This work led to several notable papers in the field, two of which have attracted over 100 citations.

Simon took a University Bursary to Victoria University, Wellington, NZ in 1970, aged 16 y and there he majored in Biochemistry. Graduating with 1st class Honours he won one of six Commonwealth Scholarships from NZ for overseas study; and he moved to the University of Adelaide where his PhD project on the enzymology and enzyme kinetics of pyruvate carboxylase was supervised by Drs (now Prof) John Wallace and Bruce Keech. His highly praised PhD was examined by Prof Paul Boyer (later to win the Nobel Prize), and Keith Tipton from Cambridge and subsequently the University of Dublin, a renowned enzymologist.

Simon’s post-doctoral work was carried out in the Biochemistry Department at Oxford in the laboratory of Dr (now Prof) Raymond Dwek, working on complement protein structures. For this sojourn Simon had been offered three post-doctoral fellowships and he settled on the Junior Beit Memorial Research Fellowship. Then in 1979 he was appointed a Linacre College Junior Fellow and in 1980 an EPA Cephalosporin Junior Fellow at Lincoln College. Simon notes: “In those days my hair was half-way down my back. Raymond told me that in preparation for the Lincoln interview I had better have a hair-cut. I did, so it was about shoulder length. Afterwards the boss of Lincoln called Raymond to say that I had got the JRF but he was concerned about how long my hair was. Raymond (in his inimitable style), pointed out that I *had* arranged a hair-cut in honour of the interview...”

In a letter dated 20 Nov 1980 the University offered Simon a Lectureship in Biochemistry, and he duly began work here on 25th of May 1981. He snared his first ARC grant in 1981 and began work in 1982 on the protein chemistry of complement proteins. Simon was a Probationary lecturer until 1983 and then made permanent on June 2 1983; and in 1988, on Jan 1, his birthday (!) he was promoted to Senior Lecturer. He took sabbatical leave from 5 Sept 1987 to 25 Feb 1988 with Prof Alan Williams in his MRC Unit in Oxford and there learnt about the use of monoclonal antibodies.

Amongst many committee roles for the Department, School and University, Simon was Chair in 1994 of the Sydney University Macromolecular Analysis Centre (SUMAC). And of course his lifelong passion/obsession is chess. He is heavily involved in the NSW Chess Association, and is very well known nationally and beyond for his skill in this ancient game.

He has supervised a long list of excellent Hons (>30, 5 Medals) and PhD (14) students. He was the last of our “chalk and talk” lecturers, whose lectures in spite of not bending to the modern demands of the OHP and the web, seemed always to have been extremely well received, for their thoughtfulness and rigour. The large number of students, who sought his group for Honours and post-graduate work, even in the most recent years, attested this to.

In the School he was for a period Chair of the Honours Committee; and for even longer he was Chair of Biochemistry 3 forming a very effective working team with Jill Johnston.

In conclusion, we already miss you Simon, and wish you well for the future in whatever direction you take, for you are still young and adaptive and so we look forward to seeing what next you produce!

Prof Philip Kuchel
19th November 2009