Sharing things

George and Tammy: Grasping opportunity, science communication and all the small things

October 21, 2021 The University of Edinburgh Season 5 Episode 3
George and Tammy: Grasping opportunity, science communication and all the small things
Sharing things
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Sharing things
George and Tammy: Grasping opportunity, science communication and all the small things
Oct 21, 2021 Season 5 Episode 3
The University of Edinburgh

In our third episode, guests George McGavin and Tammy Piper talk about grasping opportunity, science communication and the small things.

George is an entomologist, author, academic, television presenter and explorer. His academic appointments include an Honorary Research Associate position at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History and a Research Associate role at The Department of Zoology of Oxford University. His research has taken him from the tropical forests of Papua New Guinea to the caves of Thailand and from the jungles of Belize to the savannas of Tanzania. George studied Zoology at Edinburgh University before completing a doctorate at the British Museum of Natural History and Imperial College, London. 

Tammy is the Tissue Bank Manager for the MRC Institute for Genetics and Cancer at the University of Edinburgh. Her role involves managing a busy tissue bank archiving tumour samples from patients in large phase III breast cancer clinical trials. Tammy studied at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, the Welsh Cyology Training School, and the University of West of England, Bristol and worked at the Royal Gwent Hospital in Newport before joining the University of Edinburgh. 

As usual we start with an object, but in season five we celebrate hidden corners and unexpected connections. Subscribe now for University of Edinburgh community exploration and really good chat.

You can find more information on the Sharing things website.

Graphic images designed by Chris Behr. They are part of his Nice Things icon set. 

Show Notes Transcript

In our third episode, guests George McGavin and Tammy Piper talk about grasping opportunity, science communication and the small things.

George is an entomologist, author, academic, television presenter and explorer. His academic appointments include an Honorary Research Associate position at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History and a Research Associate role at The Department of Zoology of Oxford University. His research has taken him from the tropical forests of Papua New Guinea to the caves of Thailand and from the jungles of Belize to the savannas of Tanzania. George studied Zoology at Edinburgh University before completing a doctorate at the British Museum of Natural History and Imperial College, London. 

Tammy is the Tissue Bank Manager for the MRC Institute for Genetics and Cancer at the University of Edinburgh. Her role involves managing a busy tissue bank archiving tumour samples from patients in large phase III breast cancer clinical trials. Tammy studied at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, the Welsh Cyology Training School, and the University of West of England, Bristol and worked at the Royal Gwent Hospital in Newport before joining the University of Edinburgh. 

As usual we start with an object, but in season five we celebrate hidden corners and unexpected connections. Subscribe now for University of Edinburgh community exploration and really good chat.

You can find more information on the Sharing things website.

Graphic images designed by Chris Behr. They are part of his Nice Things icon set. 

[Theme music]

Ayanda  0:00  Hello, howzit? Welcome to Sharing things. I'm Ayanda, your new host for Season Five. As usual, we've gathered to listen to conversations from members of our community. Let's go on a journey together while we discover the little things that connect us. In this episode, we hear from Tammy Piper and George McGavin. So we can just start off by introducing ourselves to each other and then we can kind of take it from there.

Tammy  0:36  My name is Tammy and I manage the tissue bank for a cancer research lab at the University of Edinburgh. We're based on the Western General Hospital campus.

George  0:48  Well, I'm George McGavin, and I did my degree in Zoology at Edinburgh University. Oh, 1971 to 75. So that's going back a bit. I then went on to do a PhD at Imperial College. I ended up at Oxford University where I taught for 25 years, and then I became a TV presenter. So I've had two careers really. Both of them wonderful. Yeah, so that that's me.

Ayanda  1:24  That's so interesting and I'm quite intrigued in the career change. I'm wondering what inspired that because they kind of -

George  1:33  yeah

Ayanda  1:34 

- if I want to say drastically different?

George  1:37  Well yeah, you might think it's drastically different but actually in a way, it's not I, I realised after 25 years that what I was really doing at Oxford was preaching to the converted. Because all the students I taught wanted to do Biology, they wanted that degree course. And, you know, I realised on the way home, actually was a Friday night December 2007, it was I remember it very clearly, I was on the way home on my motorbike, which I used it for many, many years in Oxford. And I had the idea I thought, you know, if I have a tutorial in Oxford I might have an audience of four, you know, something like that. If I do a cruise ship talk, which I used to do for free, free holidays, I might have an audience of 400. But if I did an hour on the telly, which I was beginning to do, I might have an audience of 4 million. So I resigned, I actually got back home, had a beer, typed my resignation, and handed it in the next morning. That was it. Without even considering such practicalities as pensions and things of that sort. I should have done really, but that was it, I think. But it's not different because I have a passion for sharing my love of the natural world with an audience. I don't really care who the audience is. It can be a group of 8 year olds, it can be a group of 80 year olds, it can be television, whatever, but, but to get the audience -- this is why the last year and a half for me it's been very hard because we're doing this sort of stuff we're doing. Virtual meetings. In fact, I'm actually coming up to Edinburgh in September to talk at a conference and it will be the first face to face lecture I will have given in two years. A real audience, flesh and blood! 

[Theme music]

Ayanda  3:43  Yeah, and that story about passion, it just really jumps out at you the way you just kind of sat down, wrote your resignation and submitted it, no questions asked. And I'm just quite curious for you Tammy what inspired you to take the the career path that you've taken?

Tammy  3:59  Um, well, I studied Marine Biology in university in Aberystwyth. When I left uni, I was looking for work in a lab. I wanted to do like conservation genetics and things but I didn't have as much lab experience. So I applied for a job in the local hospital pathology lab as a lab assistant filing slides and things like this just to try and get some lab experience and they said, well, you could become a Trainee Biomedical Scientist, and I thought about it and I thought I'd have to do another course but then I could technically get a job at any hospital in the UK. So I did, I ended up doing an MSc in Cellular Pathology at Bristol. So then I saw a job in Edinburgh, so I did my exam with the external examiners, I think on a Tuesday, I flew to Edinburgh Tuesday evening for a job interview with the University on Wednesday, and then went back to work on the Friday acting as if I just had a couple of days to relax after my exam. I got the job on the Monday after, my husband got his job on the following Friday and within six weeks we packed up -

Ayanda  4:57  Wow

Tammy  4:58  - we were renting. Just sold all our stuff and I came up on the train with our guinea pigs, because my husband had driven up in the car and we go into the holiday flat, and we literally did the whole thing in like six, seven weeks, which looking back now I have a mortgage and children and more things. Quite a thing to do!

George  5:13  More things like children! Guinea pigs! [laughter]

Tammy  5:15 Things like, things like children. I've got guinea pigs on a cat box on the table on the train, from Newport to Edinburgh. But it's kind of -- I didn't really choose to do these things. I have a friend from University, she's really smart. She's one of the smartest people I know. And she said that she didn't choose to do the job she did. She just had a series of opportunities present themselves that she took advantage of, you know, and she's a former student of Edinburgh Uni as well but I met her in Aberystwyth and I really liked that because you kind of, you're not committing yourself to anything in a way like if you said I've always said, I wanted to do this so I'm going to stick to it rigidly even if it doesn't work out, you know. So yes, I kind of try and when I do public engagement with science students and school students about maybe coming into science, I kind of say, you know, think of taking advantage of opportunities that present themselves to you.

Ayanda  6:07  Yeah.

George  6:08  Yeah, you, you certainly have to grab these things as they come along. I mean, I, I did my degree at Edinburgh in Zoology and after the degree course, I wasn't exactly sure what I wanted to do. I mean, I knew I wanted to do a PhD somewhere, but I wasn't quite sure what and I was walking down Buccleuch Place past the student careers office as was then I don't know where it is now. And I went in, and one of the things I did that you should know about me at the outset, is that I have a stammer, and in fact, it was a very bad stammer when I was a kid. In fact, it was probably off the scale, basically. So I didn't really get on top of that until I was probably about 40 really. But anyway, I went into the Edinburgh Careers Service, and I said, "Oh", and there was a guy at the front desk on the phone, and I said, "Hello. I've just got a degree in Zoology" "Just, just a minute. Hold on". And he was on the phone to the Natural History Museum. And he said to me, "what did you say your degree was in?"  "Zoology?" "Oh, yes." He said, "I've got a great candidate for you right in front of me. Yeah." [laughter] He didn't know me from Adam. "No," he said, "yeah, he can be on the train tomorrow. Yes. Yes to London. That's right. Okay. Yep. Name?" "George McGavin". "Yeah. Okay. George McGavin. Yeah, he'll be down tomorrow." So that was it. I went, hold on what, what just happened there? What the hell just happened there. He said, "You're going down to London tomorrow to the Natural History Museum for an interview for a PhD in Entomology", and I went, Oh, right. Okay well I better pack my bag then.

Tammy  7:49  That's exciting.

George  7:51  And that was it! That was it. I mean, it -- providence, you couldn't make it up, really? So I got to Waverly Station, headed down, had the interview, got the interview, got the position. And then that was it. I mean, and if I hadn't just walked in off Buccleuch Place, and if that that guy hadn't taken this random guy off the street at face value, and said, "Yeah, yeah, he's great kinda guy. Fantastic." Yeah. Unbelievable. I wish I could find that guy. I wish I could find him. In fact I hope as a result of this podcast, that guy comes forward says, "Oh, yes, I remember you".

Ayanda  8:25  I'm quite intrigued about the whole opportunities arising out of like, nowhere, essentially, they just kind of come in and you kind of like you spoke about your friend, Tammy, who had all these opportunities come along to them, and they kind of just grab that. And I wonder, what would it what would life be especially for you, George, had you never walked down Buccleuch and kind of just met the right person at the right time?

George  8:54  Well, you don't know, it's just it's just the way it happens. And that that's why I always say to kids, you know, who I who I teach or have taught and, you know, take the opportunities you know, take the opportunities it's not it's not what you know always, it's who you meet and whether you just say yeah, that that sounds like a reasonable thing to do. I mean, if you sit back and worry about things you won't do anything.

Tammy  9:21  When we were moving to Edinburgh we had some people say like, what if it doesn't work out? What if it goes wrong? And we're like, well, we'll just come back or we'll find somewhere else you know, yeah.

[Theme music]

George  9:36  Your new career looking after a tissue bank, it's sort of similar to the job I had I mean, I was looking after insect collections so it's a museum -

Tammy  9:48  archiving

George  9:49  - So all the stuff dead in my case, whereas in the stuff that you look after you are actually looking after stuff that is live and is presumably frozen.

Tammy  10:02  We're looking at former and fixed tissues like tumour samples from patients in clinical trials.

George  10:06  So it is a collection of dead stuff! [laughter]

Ayanda  10:09  Something in common!

Tammy  10:10  They might all be dead now but they were alive at the time!  I have cupboards of slides with sections of tissue on and I have drawers with tissue blocks in and we've started to extract RNA. So I have a lot of, I feel like it's, it's like a library of bits of people really. So yeah -

George  10:31  here's the connection again, I mean, I I have I had a little brush with cancer in 2018. So, so to cut a lot very long story short, it was an acral malignant melanoma. So they hacked it out, and it had spread up my leg to my hip, and I'm now on -

Tammy  10:50  Oh no!

George  10:51  -fiendishly expensive drugs, which I shudder to think how much the NHS is shelling out for this, but it's not cheap. But I'm still alive. And as part of the film I made, because I wanted to make a film about my 'cancer journey', they call it, so I made a film of it for BBC Four. And in part of that, I went to the pathology department where they had sectioned my very tumour, which is very small, and I could stare down a microscope at the individual cells, the little black stained melanoma cells, which if I hadn't done anything about it would have killed me within a year. And that was quite a shock in the film, because I, I was actually looking at my death, if you like, or potentially at the cause of my death and these little, insignificant skin cells, which have gone rogue.

Ayanda  11:52  And I just wanted to ask, it's also related to your object this morning, George. So just you kind of spoke about looking at the melanoma -

George  12:03  indirectly, yes

Ayanda  12:05  - at like at a microscopic level.

George  12:08  Looking at the world, yes.

Ayanda  12:09 

So you have this object with you, would you like to just kind of go into what your object was and the experience of looking at something so up close?

George  12:17  Yeah, my object is a hand lens which you can buy in shops for as little as £5 but you can spend £50 if you wanted a really high tech one. And I was introduced to this, I must have been about 10 years old. I already knew that I wanted to study the natural world, this was, for me the only possible career that I could see. And this x10 hand lens just opened the doors to this, this hidden world, this world of bugs and creepy crawlies and flowers and plants. And x10, you might think is not a huge size of lens, but it can enable you to see so much more than your than your eyes can. Of course, I've had it all my life. And I think this is my second one only, I lost the first one. Great shame. But this is the object that I if I could only take one object with me somewhere, it will be a hand lens, because I can see things in a completely new way. And of course, having a look down a microscope, that's slightly more high powered, of course, or an SEM or something. But it's the way that we see the world we can extend our rather poor faculties with a piece of kit like, like this and you then begin to understand the world a lot more clearly.

Ayanda  14:04  That's so interesting, because essentially you both work with kind of like equipment that helps you see into this different world like a tiny, tiny world. And that's also true for you Tammy, how is that experience? That new world that's just unlocked that we can't really see on a normal basis.

Tammy  14:22  I erm, I really like my microscope. During the pandemic I've been working from home cleaning data files and excel and I got to go in and use my microscope last summer. I was really I was almost hugging it I was so happy. And no I really like it and what I like about my area of pathology so like the tissue side of it, not like the blood sciences or the biochemistry side, is that it's kind of a bit old fashioned and that you can only automate so many of these processes. At some point somebody still has to look at a piece of tissue down a microscope, we still cut the tissue by hand on a microtome. I do public engagement stuff through work. One year they had this science ceilidh at Summerhall and it was in the old science department and I was the 1950s pathology lab because I had microscopes and glass slides of different tissues. So I have an atlas with like brain, liver, heart, lung, kidney, and then different breast cancers as well. So people can actually come and have a look at stuff and what I really like is being able to, for people to see a part of their world but also potentially their body that they wouldn't get to see otherwise. You know, and I think it helps people have a bett- I think people need, would benefit from a better understanding of science and biology and --

George  15:36  absolutely, I couldn't agree more

Tammy  15:37  -- particularly this pandemic has really highlighted that and I think, you know, being able to see something down a microscope it is -- because everybody's always busy looking out here and you kind of think you should look at the wee stuff as well. I just really love it. You said you looked at -- studied insects? We took my oldest son camping for the first time and he got a tick on his face because we're lucky like that.

Ayanda  16:00  Oh my word.

Tammy  16:00  And I remember how I took it out. Maybe I shouldn't say this on the podcast, I took it to work and I put it on a slide and I have a slide at work with the ticks head on it and it looks like something from Alien.

George  16:09  Fantastic! Just to correct you on that a little bit because a tick isn't an insect it's an arachnid -

Tammy  16:14  Sorry!

George  16:14  - but I'm going to gloss over that.

Tammy  16:17  That's fine, it's the details in science, it's all about the details.

Ayanda  16:20  Exactly. Gotta keep it precise. Got to keep it precise.

Tammy  16:24  On it.

George  16:25  Here is a remarkable thing. Here are two individuals whose only visible connection is that we're, we're both in Edinburgh at some time in our lives.

Ayanda  16:36  Yeah.

George  16:36  But here we have parallels in collections of stuff, looking at stuff very carefully, doing outreach. I mean, I did a huge amount of that at Oxford. I did a huge amount of outreach, which was in the 80s becoming very popular. So you know, you could no longer have sciences uh, you know, in your ivory tower, you you you had to go out and share it, which I was more than happy to do. That was after all my my raison d'etre. But but at most universities, it was regarded with a little bit of suspicion early on, you know, you're not at the bench, you're not working, you know, you're wasting your time with 10 year olds. Oh, come on, you know. But of course, where do scientists of the future come from? They come from primary schools.

Tammy  17:27  Exactly.

George  17:28  And if you don't enthuse them and get them excited about science how the hell can you expect them to pick a career in science?

Tammy  17:36  I think of one of the scientists I met when I was a student. So when I was studying my degree in Aberystwyth, the majority of my teachers were older men, right there was just like this very old school old guard of male lecturers.

George  17:50  Male, pale and stale, a bit like me. [laughter].

Tammy  17:55  But we had this like, a biology society for the students which would have guest speakers. And this lady came and she talked about Deep Sea Biology, which I used to absolutely love when I was doing my A Levels. And she came and she must have been like, in her 30s at a push, she looked I don't say glamorous. But she looked so different to all of the other people and I was just like, I want to be like her. Do you know what I mean like, I didn't do a PhD and go into Deep Sea Biology but I just liked the way she just stood and she talked, she owned the room and it was so refreshing. Because so many of the people in charge of my education at that point, were the older men that had gone to like Oxford and Cambridge. So it was just a real refreshing change to see somebody like that. And I thought that's who I want to be. But then I also want to be that person, for other for other like future scientists, you know?

George  18:42  I mean, I mean, Edinburgh, I have to say Edinburgh was actually quite ahead of its time. When I was at Edinburgh, because in the Zoology department, we actually had a group, we were supposed to go to a primary school in our honours year, we would be assigned to a primary school, we had to go and do classes there. And each of us and it was -- I think it was a brilliant idea. And it should be done at every University department. I went off to a school in Cramond in Edinburgh with a rat and I had this idea that I would dissect a rat for a group of I dunno 8 year olds, 10 year olds. There was a huge hooha. Of course this is back in 75 yeah. And I got the permission of the school and all the parents said yes, it was fine. And there was this wee boy in the front of the class when I was cutting open the rat and peeling the skin back and saying "well, this is the rib cage" and and he went completely white and passed out and oh my god, this is terrible. Then he fought to get back in, he fought to get back in I said, "now are you sure you are going to be alright because I'm just about to cut the rib cage open and we can have a look at the heart and the lungs" and he he went a bit white again. And he said, "Yes, I must. I must watch this, I want to be a surgeon." I said, "Well, you better watch this buddy because you ain't going to be a surgeon if you pass out every time." [laughter] "Every time you see an organ, you know." I wonder if he became a surgeon.

[Theme music]

Ayanda  20:20  What you guys have spoken about is just kind of like having that person walk into your life and make a difference. People who just kind of give you that, that nudge in the right direction. And I guess it also brings us to your object, Tammy?

Tammy  20:33  Yes. So my object is a book that my friend got me for my birthday. I was 40 in the lockdown last year, and it's a 100 year old edition of The Tales of Edgar Allan Poe. It's like super old. It's kind of got like pieces of paper over the pictures to stop the print rubbing off and things. And the reason I chose this object is because it kind of -- I like the stories of Edgar Allan Poe. I like the stories of lots of Gothic writers and things is that it is kind of, I thought was a nice symbol, if that's the right word, of my time in Edinburgh, and the fact that it's a really old book, but I've only had it for a very short time. The fact that one of my oldest friends gave it to me, I met her when I was eight. But through my love of this genre of fiction, I was doing night classes at the University in Victorian literature and horror stories and all sorts of things. Through doing those classes, I met a friend who is in Edinburgh, who's now my kind of more recent best friend. And then also through doing those classes, I was invited to teach and I taught Introduction to Marine Ecology for a few terms at the University as well. So I just thought this book kind of summed up a few threads of my time in Edinburgh linking it to like my old friend from back home, and obviously, Edgar Allan Poe from a hundred years ago, and plus I'm a bookworm. So I kind of felt it had to be a book really.

Ayanda  21:58  And do you still meet new people through the book? Because it seems like it kind of opened up a new world.

Tammy  22:04  Not through this book, no, but I think the confidence I got through teaching kind of made me feel more comfortable doing more public engagement things at work, where I meet lots of people. And it's, I remember at my last Open Day, I had my microscope or my slides and this lady came and sat and she gave me a real interrogation on everything our building did, our research, because she'd been to the University of Dundee's Open Day and seen their cancer research departments so she was like, she was comparing notes. And she turned out to be the Mother-in-Law of somebody I did my bachelor's degree with in Aberystwyth. So it's kind of like a very small world.

Ayanda  22:39  Oh wow. What is it about the book exactly? Is it the contents? Do you have a favourite poem perhaps?

Tammy  22:47  My middle school back in Norfolk was an old monastery. So I've always liked these old buildings and it was supposed to be haunted. So I had the love of like ghost stories and things growing up, I think Edgar Allen Poe was one of those kind of authors if you like, those sorts of stories, or that genre, that's kind of the ones that you always go through. I really like the Mask of the Red Death, that's quite a good one, and The Fall of the House of Usher are two of my favourites. I like the fact that my friend who doesn't really read this genre of book went out of her way to look for something, like a significant birthday present, if you know what I mean for a significant birthday. What I like about all books like this is I like the way that they have -- I do like a nice hardback with like nice, embossed writing on it, the diddy tiny print inside that you need a magnifying glass or a hand lens to try and --

George  23:31  I can read that!

Ayanda  23:32  George is completely set for that.

Tammy  23:34  -- And sometimes when you get these books, you actually find an inscription in the front to who it belonged with, maybe if it was a gift to somebody, and that's always quite nice and I like the longevity of it. Because you know, this book was printed a hundred years ago,  who knows how long I will have this, but then it will get passed on to other people. And if you think of all the people who read this book, you know.

George  23:53  We share that - books. I love books. I cannot-- many people have said well why don't you try Kindle George? Yeah, no! Kindles are the work of the devil.

Ayanda  24:06  Oh, wow.

George  24:07  I want to hold a book. I want to touch the paper. I want to read it.

Ayanda  24:11 Yeah.

George  24:11  And close it out.

Tammy  24:12  Yeah. I like secondhand book shops, like going into them but they just like shelf and you just there and you're like [gasps].

George  24:19  There's plenty in Edinburgh.

Tammy  24:20  Then I remember that I have to carry them home. Absolutely, have to carry the books home. So I have to kind of restrain myself.

Ayanda  24:26  Yeah. What about you, George? Do you have a gift from a friend that was kind of like so perfect, that you've treasured?

George  24:34  The hand lens, my first hand lens was actually a gift from a colleague of my father's. She was an inspector of schools for biology. And she lived in Edinburgh and she gave me it as a gift. But yeah, I mean there there is nothing more wonderful than a gift that somebody has really thought about. I loathe gift shops. I loathe gift shops, because they are they are there simply to fulfil a need because somebody has to buy some piece of tat for somebody to say thanks. Yeah, something that you've thought about something -- and it's always the same at Christmas, or birthdays or whatever, the one present that you value more than anything else is the one that shows that somebody knows you, has thought about you and has said to themselves, oh, George is going to love this. He's going to love this.

[Theme music].

Ayanda  25:42  For both of your objects, when you look at them now what emotion does it evoke?

George  25:47  Of course, the original one I now don't have, which was a, you know, fallen apart. And I I'm sure it's somewhere in the house, but I can't find it. I do think about the person who gave me that the hand lens, of course, long time ago. But I realised now that there was a little ember in me, there was a little ember that was just glowing. I knew that the natural world well, it's the only thing we've got. And I'm afraid today, we are coming to realise this a little bit too late, that hand lens was just a fan of that ember and just said, look at this, look at this world I had. Go into your garden, turn over a leaf, you will not believe the stuff that is walking about under that leaf. And this is how you live with it.

Tammy  26:53  I guess when I opened it, and I realised what it was, I was completely overwhelmed with excitement that I could own something so fantastic as an old book, like a really, really old book, but also felt this overwhelming sense of love, because the person who sent it to me, like I said, I met when we were eight. And they helped me a lot through difficult times in my childhood. And we're still friends now. And, you know, we don't always speak that often. But like, and I just had all these memories of things like us being at middle school together, in this really old monastery building, telling each other ghost stories at break time, you know, us going on day trips when we were like in school holidays. And that's when we visited each other as adults. And you know, and I just, I just kind of got this overwhelming sense of love from this object, because of the person who gave it to me.

Ayanda  27:43  People who usually feel the strong need to go out and make a difference is because there's a challenge that they usually faced in their past or growing up. Would you say that for you, George, you kind of like went out there and you wanted the message to reach as wide of an audience and that really prompted you into a career change.

George  28:03  I mean, it is bizarre that having had a stammer at a young age that got worse and worse until I was about 14, when it was literally the worst ever. In fact, for a year between the age of 14 and 15 I didn't speak at home or at school. I was a self imposed mute, because there was no point there was literally no point. And if you had come Ayanda from the future, in a time machine, to me aged 14, and had told me right, George, this is what's gonna happen to you, you're going to become a university lecturer, and not just at any university at Oxford University. You get to do that for 25 years and then when you finish that you're going to become a television presenter making, you know, dozens and dozens of documentaries and short films for the BBC. I would have thought you were insane. I literally could not have imagined anything less probable than that. And so when I talk to kids about this, I, I impress on them the fact that you never can tell what's around the corner, you just don't know. And it might seem totally unreachable. It might seem a goal that you will never, ever attain. But you just don't know. You just don't know. I don't know if something in me, made me want to prove to myself or to prove to other people that that I was not handicapped in this way. I don't know. But certainly I think it is now vitally important that people understand the natural world. We cannot survive on a bare rock. We are dependent on millions of species for the air we breathe. For the food we eat. For the fibres and materials we use, and we just don't realise it yet, we are now eight billion and rising, we have destroyed the wilderness, large parts of it, we think we can-- we think we need cheap food. So we produce masses of cheap food, a third of which is wasted every year, by using pesticides and the rest of it, and it can't go on. We now are facing the biggest existential crisis this species has ever faced, and that is climate change. And if we don't do something about it, and if COP26 becomes COP out 26 in in Glasgow, we are finished, we are literally finished. So the more people understand the more people realise and appreciate what's happening the better.

Tammy  31:01  When I was younger, I was painfully shy to talk to anyone. So we got really awkward and embarrassed easily and I didn't have the easiest of childhoods. And --but I was clever. So I just knew that I wanted to study science, because it meant I had an opportunity to go away from my difficult home and live somewhere totally different, and be amongst people who didn't know me. Ironically, one of my first jobs when I left school was as a tour guide in an aquarium doing children's parties and talking to members of the public, which I managed to do. And it gave me real confidence. And then when I left University, like I said, I kind of fell into pathology and the research side of it, there's an aspect of me wanting to prove because I think about, you know, the other people from my hometown, who I was in school with, for example, and how their lives panned out for them. And I kind of wanted to make sure that that didn't happen to me, necessarily. But I also wanted to just --that I didn't have an example of somebody from my sort of town with my sort of background, doing these sorts of work during this type of studying or this type of job. So I kind of want to be that example so when people say, yeah, but it's alright for them because they come from money or whatever. And I'm like well I didn't come from money and I'm doing this. You know, I'm a girl, I'm doing this. I went to state school, I'm still doing this. So I kind of I think that's my drive now. Is to try and show to people from certain demographics actually, no, you can do this. I was like you, you know, I left home at 16, it's fine. You can do this it may not be easy, but you can still do it. So that's kind of what drives me a bit.

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Ayanda  32:38  Yeah, and I think another parallel, we've been talking about parallels and so much in common. That's the beauty of Sharing things. I think one thing that I've -- the biggest parallel that I've seen between you, between you guys is that there's this push to kind of just go out there and get it. Not necessarily go with the flow, but just kind of like throw yourself into the wind, you know what I mean, with so much gusto.

Tammy  33:03  I have to say, my 16 year old self wouldn't have thought of myself as as putting myself out there. And you know what I mean, I was just like, I'm gonna do this head down, and I'm gonna get through it and come up the other side. Maybe looking back some of those decisions at the time were kind of quite brave, almost in a way for who I was back then.

Ayanda  33:20  And George and just kind of like before we wrap up, is there a time in your life as always, you just had to say, you know what, I'm done. I'm moving on. This is the path I'm going to take and we're going to make it work.

George  33:31  Oh, yeah. Yeah, I mean, the there's so many parallels between myself and Tammy, I didn't have a particularly good relationship with my father. And if I could have left home at 16, I probably would have if I'd been able to. University was was the way out for me. And I think education is so vitally important if I -- as we've been talking actually about outreach and about schools and about education, that the more it it occurs to me that really we've got education the wrong way around in this country and many Western countries. Primary Education, as the name implies, is primary important primary importance you you learn more between the age of 5 and 8 than you'll probably ever learn again in your whole life and this is why you should have the best learning experience for primary children. You should have the best teachers the most inspired teachers, not the ones who drone on -- we've heard I've heard them at University. My God. I mean, I've had some really boring lecturers as you come up to the podium with their notes they go right "Um, today's lecture is the [snoring sound]". I mean -

Ayanda  34:58  I'm having flashbacks.

George  34:59  - Oh, stop, please stop. And, you know, my-- while I was at Oxford when I had to teach my idea was to make it exciting. Education and entertainment, which, of course, is what the BBC used to do very very well, the sort of Reithian Approach, educate and entertain in equal amounts. And I realised that you've got to make people want to learn, you can't, you can't just stuff facts under their nose and say learn this. It's never gonna happen. You've got to make people so excited, so interested in what you're doing, that they want to go and find out for themselves. And if we put more money into primary education, and paid teachers more, in primary sector, I think you would see a massive outcome in 30 years time or, or less.

Ayanda  36:00  I think primary school teachers for me, kind of like thrusted me into the direction that I'm in right now. Give me that confidence to just kind of still be me today. And here on Sharing things as we come into a close we like to ask our -- the one final question, which is, if you had to pick one word that encapsulates the essence of the object that you brought with you today, what would it be?

Tammy  36:27  I guess, for this, I would say threads, because it's kind of there are threads through my life around this book, if that makes sense. Those threads coming into it from my past from my friend and threads going out, sideways, and then into the future. So I think that would be a good word.

Ayanda  36:43  Good, good. What about you, George? What would that one one word -

George  36:46  Simply discovery.

Ayanda  36:50  That's so powerful. And the way you said it as well. Discovery. I can't say it the same way, but -

George  36:56  You have to say it in a Scottish accent - discovery, there you are. [laughter].

Ayanda  37:01  That's even better. I'm not gonna try because it's not gonna work out with me. But yes, thank you. Thank you so much for today. Thank you so much for coming through and sharing so much of yourselves and your story.

George  37:16  Thank you.

Tammy  37:17  No, it's been really good.

Ayanda  37:24  Hey there, thanks for listening. You can subscribe to our channel on your favourite podcast platform. Or check out our website to find out more about our guests. See you next time.

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Kate  37:46  I hope you've enjoyed meeting members of our University of Edinburgh community. To connect with more join Platform One, our online meeting place for students, alumni and staff of the University. To find out more search Platform One, Edinburgh.

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