“I am proud to know that the work I do has the potential to benefit so many in the community.”
Associate Professor Nigel Barnett is a senior scientist at the Queensland Eye Institute.
Tell us a little about yourself, i.e. how did you become interested in science?
I’m not sure I ever “became” interested in science. As far as I can remember, I always was. From collecting frogspawn in a bucket and growing it into tadpoles and frogs, to making explosives in chemistry and learning “quantum mechanics for beginners” at high school, I have always been fascinated by “how?”, “why?” and particularly “what if I….?”
What has been your career path?
My schoolboy interest in biology, physics and chemistry led me to an undergraduate Bachelor of Science degree in physiology at the University of Sheffield (UK), a fascinating course that combined aspects of all three disciplines. My interest in neuroscience was sparked during my final year project, which was investigating how general anaesthetics affect nerve cells in the brain. After completing my degree, an opportunity arose at the Nuffield Laboratory of Ophthalmology at the University of Oxford to study the retina (neuroscience inside the eye), where I completed a research master’s degree (MSc) then a doctorate (DPhil) in retinal neurobiology.
At that time (1995), a DPhil was a world passport to science. A post-doc position outside the UK was very appealing, but where? I chose the Vision, Touch & Hearing Research Centre at the University of Queensland. It was only a 2-year position, so I expected to be back in the UK soon. Well, 20 years and a number of NHMRC grants later, I’m (very happily) still in Brisbane and privileged to be able to contribute to retinal research here at QEI.
What drives you and what do you enjoy about your current position?
A recent study found nearly two thirds of Australians fear going blind over losing a limb or having a heart attack. A diagnosis of glaucoma, which is my speciality, is one of those areas where people are suddenly and unexpectedly faced with potential vision loss. What drives me is the outcome where this is no longer a fearful disease that threatens a person’s sight.
What is the professional achievement you are the most proud of?
My latest publication (each of them). The thrill and pride of seeing, understanding and reporting something novel that, by definition, no one else ever has, in the history of science. I am proud to know that the work I do has the potential to benefit so many in the community.
What has been the most important advice you were ever given?
If you’ve got nothing to say, say nothing. When you do, people are more likely to know it means something.
What would you like to tell your PhD self?
Don’t ever forget how hard this is. Remember this when you are supervising PhD students in the future.
Is there a saying you hold as a life motto?
Predictions can be very difficult – especially about the future. – Niels Bohr