Congratulations and thank you to Duncan Casey! Duncan is one of the Mendeley Advisors who showcased his research work through a hands-on demonstration at Mendeley’s booth at New Scientist Live! Duncan and his colleagues from Imperial College brought along their laser tractor beam and challenged attendees to race a polystyrene ball around a track! Yes, we said tractor beam.
While at New Scientist Live, Duncan also helped answer questions about science, which we posted on Twitter under the hashtag #MendeleyWall, and appeared on BBC Radio 5 answering callers’ questions live at New Scientist Live!
Learn more about Duncan and why he thinks Mendeley is great even for technophobes:
How did you get into your field and what is your research story?
Mine’s been less a career path and more a random walk. I started out my scientific career expecting to be a drug development chemist but once I actually got to try it, I found I didn’t like it much. From there, I started investigating drug transport around the body, ended up developing techniques and tools to analyse cell membranes and almost accidentally picked up some experience in laser optics along the way. My research now revolves around mixing the three skill-sets together – in using lasers and surface chemistry to do biology experiments on a very small scale.
Where do you do your research/work the best? What kind of environment suits you?
Creative anarchy! When everything is working well, there’s a lot of excited shouting going on as a room full of smart people bounce ideas off each other. Some ideas are ridiculous, some are inspired, and a few are both.
How long have you been on Mendeley and what were you using prior to Mendeley and how does Mendeley influence your research?
I’ve been using Mendeley since about 2008, I think – I was asked to review it for a newspaper article, and found it a huge improvement on any of the reference management platforms I’d encountered up until that point. At the time it didn’t quite do what I needed, but clearly had a lot of potential, so I got involved as an advisor and helped a little with the development and testing of Mendeley Groups.
My research involves lots of people with widely differing areas of expertise spread across several countries, and everyone’s learning at least one new science. Being able to keep a body of both our own work and a core package of reference texts in one place has helped hugely when bringing new members up to speed, while being able to discuss and debate new papers or ideas in a single platform has been a lot of help.
Why did you decide to become an Advisor and how are you involved with the program?
When I first started using Mendeley it was only really suitable for small groups of researchers – it was more a reference manager than an out-and-out collaboration tool. At the time, I was working on my Ph.D. at Imperial’s Institute of Chemical Biology, and we needed something with a bit more breadth that could handle 30-40 researchers attacking a problem at the same time. That fed into what became Mendeley Groups, and my team became the pilot project for Imperial College’s use of the system as it became an increasingly integral part of the way we worked. I now use the same system to work with my team of engineering students at LJMU, as I try to turn them into physicists and instrument designers.
What academic/researcher/librarian would you like to work with or meet, dead or alive?
Richard Feynman. He was a seriously, seriously smart man with a pointy sense of humour, and a side-line playing bongo drums in strip clubs.
What book are you reading at the moment and why?
Depressingly, I’m trying to teach myself a couple of programming languages as I’m getting tired of being shown up by my students – that’s taking up a fair bit of my time. Outside of that, though, I’m slowly working my way through Jody Taylor’s novels about time-travelling historians. You wouldn’t necessarily accuse them of being high literature, but the enthusiastic chaos and cobbled-together hardware she describes makes me think she’s spent some time in academic R&D.
What is the best part about working in research?
I work in an expensive, dangerous toy shop making lasers do things they aren’t supposed to. What’s not to like? What’s really good fun is when you see something dreamt up on the back of a beer mat turning into a real experiment, instrument or product. The very best ones are those that are glaringly obvious to everyone exactly one second after you’ve made the first prototype – those are the ideas you know are going to be successful.
And the worst/most challenging part about working in research?
It’s about 99% frustration to 1 part exultation. If you aren’t comfortable with (or at least able to tolerate) really great-sounding ideas failing because of either accident, oversight or just some weird interaction with something that no-one had seen before, it’s not a game for you. When it’s good, though, it’s the best job in the world.
What is the one thing you want people to know about Mendeley?
Just about every function it has is exactly where you’d expect to find it – someone clearly spent a lot of time and effort making the thing intuitive to use, and even my old technophobe supervisors got to grips with it pretty quickly.