Associate Professor Stuart Peirson
Group Leader in the Sleep and Circadian Neuroscience Institute
When did you first get interested in the brain?
I became interested in the brain during my A-levels. Despite its importance, the brain seemed to be covered in very limited detail, and it really struck me as something I wanted to know more about. I have always been interested in how things work from a mechanistic perspective, so when I came across University courses in Neuroscience it seemed ideal. I had never really considered a career in research until my undergraduate lab project, where I had a great lab mentor called Paul Heath, working in the lab of Carl Pearson. Strangely enough, Carl had worked in Oxford for years beforehand. Science is a very small world.
Who has inspired you during your career?
As well as my current colleagues (of course), I would have to say Jim Bowmaker, my PhD supervisor. He really made it really easy to transition into postgraduate research and always had time for his students. Moreover, I always recall his advice that scientific research should be fun, which really stuck with me. I recall my first day in the lab with Jim. He started by tearing off a double length of lab roll and neatly laying out equipment with the comment “a gentleman should always use a tablecloth”
What has been the most important paper in your area in the last 12 months?
Tough one. Our work covers circadian biology, retinal physiology and sleep, so I am spoilt for choice. Michael Do’s recent work on encoding light intensity at the level of the retina via neuronal populations comes immediately to mind though.
What is the next exciting breakthrough in your field going to be?
Our field has really started to make progress in the translational area – for example circadian rhythms in wound healing, vaccination and chemotherapy all point to medical applications. Such clinical applications are always exciting. I think a better integration of sleep and circadian biology will provide some exciting new advances too.
What do you do outside the lab?
Try not to talk about work. As my wife works in our group, it is very easy to end up obsessing about. I also found early on that when you have a break it makes you so much more motivated and enthusiastic to get back to it. It then feels like a guilty pleasure to sneak in a bit of work over the weekend or on an evening, rather than a chore. Other than this, we have a Springer Spaniel, and he is a great distraction. I used to play basketball, but nowadays usually I just try to find time for something mindless like weight training. I also enjoy cooking. I do a lot of reading too – a good range from topics, ranging from history, economics, nature, sports science, philosophy, psychology and anything off topic.
What’s your favourite film/book/music
Film: Tough one. We have a lot of firm favourites that we watch regularly. However, anything with some comeuppance or a thriller with plenty of plot twists is good with me. And of course the classic genre of fast animals, slow people (think Jaws, Jurassic Park, Lake Placid…).
Book: Michael Sandel’s – ‘What money can’t buy’ is the last book I recall reading and having to tell others about. I am currently reading ‘The Angry Chef’, which debunks health fads associated with celeb diets and health blogs. Bit like a sweary version of Ben Goldacre’s ‘Bad Science’. The bits about Science Columbo are great.
Music: Very much depends on what I am doing. I like a wide range of genres, from classical and soul to dance and hip-hop. I mostly listen to music when doing something active, so if I had to pick a track, I would go for something lively like Fort Minor’s ‘Remember the name’.