James Edwards, B.Sc, D.Phil
Institution: Botnar Research Centre, University of Oxford
Career Stage: Lecturer and Group leader
Research Focus: Musculoskeletal Ageing in Health and Disease
ASBMR committee/leadership positions held (if any): past-member of ASBMR YI Committee and co-chair, ASBMR Publications Committee
What brought you to the bone field and why have you stayed?
Over the past 13 years I have experienced a huge amount of enjoyment working in the bone field. My initial training in cellular pathology became focused upon bone during time spent with Nick Athanasou, and where he very kindly helped me to pursue a D.Phil (Ph.D.) here at the University of Oxford. This was a tremendously exciting time for us within Oxford as Graham Russell had just been recruited to establish and run the brand new Botnar Research Centre.
The good fortune to be present within such an inspirational environment proved to be a defining point in my career. Graham was always supportive and open with advice, major leaders in the field visited (e.g. Steve Krane, Cliff Rosen) to speak at our seminar series, and it was not uncommon to see Jack Martin walking the corridors as he spent extended periods of time at the Botnar, helping and guiding us younger researchers with our grant applications and manuscripts. I am lucky to be able to continue to draw upon the valuable opinions of Graham, Jack and others including those of local mentors who continue to offer support, such as Raj Thakker and Cyrus Cooper. Seeking and acting upon the guidance of such experienced researchers is essential for junior PI’s such as I, seeking major funding.
My interest in musculoskeletal research was cemented by the opportunity to work with Greg Mundy, first in San Antonio and subsequently as we established the Center for Bone Biology at Vanderbilt. This was a truly motivating environment where I was immersed in bone research and became much more aware of what it takes to run a successful research group. Greg taught us to ask the right questions, and allowed us to foster a large degree of independence and ownership of our work during this time.
I have remained in bone research as a result of this early and continued interest in the musculoskeletal system, especially as exciting new themes of research cross into ours, such as those from the Ageing field. But mostly, I have remained in the bone field as a result of the likeable people and strong and valuable friendships I have made along the way, whose company I continue to enjoy and who have since evolved into fruitful collaborators. It is a great pleasure to now work closely with UK colleagues in organizations such as the Bone Research Society. It was particularly enjoyable to organize the successful 2013 annual meeting in Oxford a few weeks ago, especially as we were able to explore joint initiatives with ASBMR, something which I hope will continue in the future.
Attendance at ASBMR annual meetings is central to the networking component of our work, and it has pained me not to be able to attend in past years since my relocation back to the UK, and when I had to prioritize funds and efforts into establishing a research group. However, I am very much looking forward to visiting Houston next year and contributing fully to the success of ASBMR 2014.
What is a challenge you have faced and how did you overcome it?
A challenge I continue to face is trying to remain competitive in academic science whilst balancing a valuable social and family life. Being around my young children as they grow up is extremely important, yet the work rate necessary to remain successful in our business is desperately time consuming. While I am certain that this is a challenge faced by many, it is compounded for me as my wife also runs a bone (oncology) research group, needs to attend the same meetings and is subject to the same pressures.
Over the years, we have developed a number of strategies to deal with this and which now allow us to be productive whilst sustaining a valuable work-life balance, and retaining independence. In the past this has included travelling to ASBMR and walking the posters with a 2yr old, and current ASBMR initiatives to make it easier for working families to participate within the society are particularly welcomed, and something I am very happy to support.
We are also lucky to have developed a team of people between our two groups, who work well together and are motivated by similar goals. Selecting and retaining friendly and productive work-mates is something I have come to recognize as vitally important to the collective success of the group, and the individuals who comprise it. Harsh and confrontational attitudes only serve to disrupt the group dynamic and impacts negatively upon productivity all round.
My time at work is enjoyable and socializing with our team is always fun and worthwhile, a lesson learned from sipping Margaritas every Friday after work with Greg Mundy in San Antonio. Margaritas don’t taste the same in Oxford.
What topic or session would you be excited to see at an upcoming ASBMR Annual Meeting?
In the relatively short time I have been attending ASBMR meetings (2004-) I have been struck by the range of topics I have seen presented. It is exciting to see the society identifying new areas and welcoming them into the program and I look forward to what Drs Shore, Ralston and colleagues have prepared for ASBMR 2014.
I have always enjoyed the practical, career-advice sessions where gems of wisdom can be picked up from senior researchers and work-life balance issues addressed by those who have dealt with these over past years.
I have often thought it would be useful to have advice on business management, as it relates to academic research. I perceive my research group as a small business, with income and expenses, targets and goals. It would seem useful to have someone talk on how business management strategies may be applied to research groups, especially when we as research scientists, train initially as medical, laboratory researchers and have to develop grantsmanship and presentation skills as our careers develop. Running a group as a small business is the next challenge we often receive little training for.