Q&A with Dr Tim Newsome

September, 2010

Dr Tim Newsome


Dr Tim Newsome was appointed Lecturer in the School of Molecular Bioscience in 2007, with key leadership responsibilities in the areas of virology research and teaching.

Dr Newsome was awarded his PhD from the University of Zurich in 2000, and moved to Cancer Research UK, London shortly after to work as a Post-doc, successfully managing to publish his work in the highest international journals, and developing novel strategies in advanced light microscopy, genetic manilpulation of vial genomes, and tandem affinity approach for the purification of protein complezes to address new questions in host/pathogen interactions using vaccinia virus.

In 2008 Tim was awarded the Selby Research Award, and last year he was the proud recipient of the Faculty of Science Citations for Excellence in Teaching award, recognising his contribution to enhancing the student learning environment by innovations to the online delivery of courses, integrating imaging into the undergraduate syllabus via a successful TIES application, and good practise in teaching.

Do you remember when the idea first crystallized that you would become an academic?

Research nurtures independence and creative thinking and it's a natural progression to want to establish your own lab and run your own projects. I greatly enjoyed my time as a post-doctoral fellow and the support I was given to pursue my interests, but at some point the situation becomes restrictive and I realised I needed to break out and go it alone. Of course 'alone' never truly exists in science, and collaborating with and meeting other researchers is also one of the best parts of the job.

Who do you think has been your most influential mentor during your scientific career?

Maybe it's stretching the boundaries of a definition of a mentor, but I'd say that I wouldn't be in science without the inspiration of David Attenborough, and I know that I'm not the only scientist who has been influenced in this way. Sunday evenings were religiously spent watching "Life on Earth" or "The Living Planet". Perhaps a little of his curiosity in nature's wonders has rubbed off on me.

What do you think is the most pressing and exciting question in your field?

One of the most pressing issues in microbiology is the development and spread of resistance to antibiotics and antivirals, superbugs such as MRSA being a prime example. We simply can’t expect the free reign by which we use these drugs to continue to be effective; especially as the current research pipelines to develop new, effective drugs are proving insufficient. We therefore need to develop new paradigms to how we treat infectious diseases. This is an exciting and important field to be working in and to which we hope to make a tangible contribution.

What are the most exciting things happening in your lab at the moment?

We’re developing new ways of examining the behaviour of viruses inside cells. Despite being relatively inert in isolation, viruses spring to life inside cells, a phenomenon that we are able to make movies of in real time using specially constructed recombinant viruses that we can visualize using fluorescent microscopy. The secret life of a virus inside a cell takes place at high speed and is a real challenge to capture but can also be exceedingly beautiful.

What do you enjoy most about being in academia?

I love the freedom the job entails and the surprises; research constantly throws up challenges and new problems so you’re never bored. A life in academia will rarely make you a millionaire, but therefore attracts a diverse bunch of bright, often eccentric people to its ranks who enjoy getting paid to be curious. Getting to meet these people as colleagues and collaborators and at scientific conferences is always great fun.

What would you do differently if you had your time over?

I’d probably try my hand at a different research field, perhaps something like the biological basis of sleep, which I learnt a little bit about studying undergraduate psychology and actively participated in sleep experiments in order to pay the rent. There seems so much we don’t understand about why we sleep despite the ubiquity of sleep in various forms of life, from fruit flies to fish. If we could master the technique of sleeping with one side of the brain while the other half was awake, exhibited by some birds, then I would certainly have more hours in the day.

What are you most passionate about outside the laboratory?

My students will unhesitatingly reply that I’m a bit of a football tragic, a disease I caught while post-doccing in London. My hope is that one day my ability will catch up with my enthusiasm, which will tell you that I really am dreaming now.