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Robin Poole (BSc General (Microbiology, Chemistry, Zoology) 1961)


I graduated with a poor degree, due to multiple distractions. I first worked in basic microbiology research in industry. Being unable to publish my work I then moved to academic cancer research in 1963. I did an external PhD with Reading over several years, graduating in 1969. Then followed a research fellowship studying membrane fusion at the University of London. In 1970 I was invited to join a research group at the Strangeways Research Laboratory in Cambridge working on joint damage in arthritis. Following a successful period, I was invited to move to Montreal, Canada in 1977 where a new laboratory, which I designed, awaited me at the Shriners Hospital for Children. Here, as a laboratory director, I initiated research on skeletal growth as well as the pathobiology of inflammatory and degenerative arthritis. Soon after I was appointed full Professor at McGill University becoming responsible for one of largest musculoskeletal/arthritis research laboratories worldwide. In 1998 I co-founded and later became Scientific Director of the Canadian Arthritis Network, a national centre of excellence. My work has produced new commercially available blood and urine assays that are used extensively in research and clinical studies of arthritis. I have received many awards for my research , including an Honorary DSc Degree from the University of Reading in 1985, and still continue to work part-time. In 2013, I was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Cartilage Repair Society for my research on the control of joint destruction in arthritis.

Why did you choose to study at the University of Reading?

Reading offered me the chance to study microbiology which at that time was only available as a degree in Leicester and Reading.

What was the best bit about living and studying in Reading?

The social life, living in a hall of residence (Wantage)  together with all the laboratory work which constituted most of our on-site time. Most importantly I met my wife of 49 years, Mary Sawyer (Mathematics and Geography, St. Andrew's), at the Fresher's Ball. 

What top tips would you give to students who are beginning their studies?

Achieve a good balance between studying and relaxing. Keep well on top of your studies. Take them very seriously. Be sure you really love the main subject you are studying as I did. I gave too much emphasis to my social life as I had worked so hard at school and without in-term supervision got too distracted. As a result I got a poor degree and had to work my way back to eventually get a PhD. But Professor Knight, head of microbiology, and the Department of Physiological Chemistry gave me the chance following a qualifying 6 month literature survey of my chosen topic of study for my external PhD. I worked evenings and weekends with a very young family and external supervision. After many years I graduated with a PhD. At Reading I knew I was good at lab work (especially following the second year 3 month research project) and wanted to be a research scientist. This motivation was so important in eventually achieving my goal. I encountered many barriers to my ambition but it was my determination and Reading's support that made it possible to realize my dream.

What are you up to now? How did you get there?

Having established and directed, by example, a leading laboratory for 29 years and established and directed the first national research and development program of its kind worldwide, I retired from my laboratory in 2005 as life had become too demanding. I am now semi-retired but continue my interested in and work on arthritis. I Chair and am a member of several research advisory committees in different countries. I also collaborate in multidisciplinary research projects worldwide, am involved in manuscript and research funding peer review, lecture at conferences, attend scientific meetings and mentor trainees. I work from my office at home beside the St. Lawrence River in eastern Ontario, Canada and enjoy having the time to be with my family.

What would be your top tips for students interested in working in this sector?

Find a good supervisor and seek advice from mentors for research in a specific field. Become a member of a scientific society in your area of interest so that you can meet and interact with and be inspired by scientists with similar interests. Read as much as you can about research in your chosen field. Constantly add to your knowledge. Do not be a prisoner of technology. Experience the power of research collaborations that enable you to work on problems together that are not possible on your own.

How has the University of Reading and the Careers Centre helped in your chosen career path?

By offering me excellent tuition in microbiology and enabling me to pursue an external graduate degree. Were it not for this "flexibility" of attitude from Reading, I probably wouldn't have become a research scientist and achieved what I have.

What are your top tips for students graduating this year? What should they be doing to secure the job they want?

Put as much effort as you can into job applications. Do not be put off by lack of initial success. Aim to work on what interests you most. Take a temporary job if necessary so as to gain invaluable experience which is what employers are looking for in most cases. Realizing your ambition with determination should be your motivation.

Why did you decide to give to the University of Reading?

Because the university made it possible for me to pursue my dream of becoming a research scientist.

What does the University mean to you and what is your favourite memory?

This profile shows what the University of Reading means to me. My first favourite memory is that I met my wife there. Second is the microbiology labs. Third is the wonderful social life which exposed me to a world I had never previously experienced.

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