Scientific research is hard …so you have to enjoy it!

Today we’re talking to Tim Donohoe, Professor of Chemistry at the University of Oxford and Editor of Tetrahedron Letters.

What are your research interests/describe a typical working day
“I research organic chemistry in the broadest sense, but am particularly interested in total synthesis and catalysis.” Tim leads a research team of 16-20 people, a mixture of graduates/undergraduates plus postdoctoral researchers. “My job is to support them and together do the best research possible.” As well as this, Tim is also responsible for teaching and has various administrative duties. What’s more, he’s also an editor for Tetrahedron Letters! 

How do you measure success in your work?
“One thing that gets my fist pumping is when we get a really nice piece of work accepted for publication. Or when a grant gets funded – we can then do more research! Another thrill is when a member of the group gets a job (especially if it’s in chemistry!).”

Do you have any particular advice for younger researchers?
“Scientific research is hard”, says Tim “…so you have to enjoy it! The opportunity to have a job you enjoy is a privilege. If you enjoy it, work at it to be best you can be. Read widely. Make sure you are good at communicating science – presentations, writing at the board and that sort of thing.”

What drove you to become an Editor?
“I was invited!” Tim started his editorial work with the journal in January 2014. 

What is the most rewarding aspect of editorial work for you and what do you find difficult about the role?
In terms of reward, Tim finds it pleasing to be able to “help get great science published”. He sees his job to help the journal and grow its reputation. He also likes helping researchers around the world. “It’s great to see a manuscript coming back with helpful referees’ comments, then see the improvements in the revised version.” What’s not so good is having to make difficult decisions. Sometimes papers are “in the middle” – which way to go? Occasionally referees’ comments are short and unhelpful to both the author and the editor – so then one’s left in a quandary. 

What professional use (if any) do you make of social media and/or scholarly collaboration tools like Mendeley?
Tim does make use of some tools. Not much social media though. Tim finds Mendeley helpful to share ideas with other editors and Elsevier staff: the group discussion aspect is useful. “At the TET conference in Budapest – we had a virtual poster symposium. You could join the [Mendeley] group and look at the science that was being presented. You could comment and interact, even from home. That was great as it gave those unable to attend a chance to participate.” Tim doesn’t use Twitter as an active user but browses journals’ feeds.

If we could build a tool/device to help you most in your career or editorial work; what would it be?
If we’re looking at a scientific demand then something that would help organic chemistry research, in particular catalytic reactions. “There’s a lot going on in a catalytic reaction. If a particular reaction doesn’t work, we don’t know why. What we need is a simple way of working out WHY: some way of interrogating unsuccessful interactions!”

Have you any particular interests in what remains of your time apart from university and editorial work?
“Family! Squash. And I go to the gym to keep fit.”

Tim was interviewed by Christopher Tancock

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