Blowing the trumpet: a year in review for Dr Chromo

This year, instead of posting disjointed highlights of Facebook, I’ve decided to go back to the old tradition of the “Round Robin” Christmas letter, upgraded to a blog. I still receive Round Robin letters along with Christmas cards from friends and relations and always enjoy reading so why not do something similar but different? Yes, they have been lampooned for being too long and uninteresting so I will keep mine short, and hopefully, interesting.

First up, some trumpet blowing for other people. A large toot for my wife Jane who ran 125 runs this year, most of them around an hour long. I ran the last  one with her this morning and I can tell you, she has definitely overtaken me in the fitness stakes. We’ve also been out to some great restaurants and can tell she has taken note by the standards of her home cooking.

urlNext, a salute to my parents, who  have remained active despite each going through health scares and coping with the loss of a daughter. It’s hard to imagine what they have been through. A further trumpet to my in-laws who are coping with their own troubles. It was nice to see both sets of parents in November.

A further parp for brother Rod in Canada for suggesting that we brothers swap answers to a Life Questionnaire – around thirty questions on who we are, what we are, what we have achieved and what we like. When our sister Sarah died last year, an outpouring of grief and praise came from her close friends and colleagues past and present and we were all deeply touched by that. Strangely, these people knew better as an adult than did the three of us, mainly because we are scattered to the four winds. A “Big-Up” also to Alex for getting into St Martin’s College in London. I enjoyed a brief visit and a drink or two or three to him in November; I vaguely remember getting my photo taken on King’s cross Station’s Platform Nine the Three Quarters by a pair of Japanese tourists. On the same trip I also met op with Brother-in-law Dfyed, a brilliant art teacher and with his amazing son Matthew, who now goes to high school, where he studies Minecraft among other things 😉 I also had a day out in Leeds (and a drink in Whitelocks) with Brother Jim, who’s also going great guns as a Community Arts Chaplain in Gateshead.

Art Show Will Challenge Perceptions Of Religion

Work trumpets go to my student, now turned Postdoc, Jane Loke, who graduated with a PhD this year. I had a great time at Graduation with Jane and her family. Sadly, I lost Linh Nguyen, to Singapore, and would like to thank her for her excellent work as a student and Research Assistant.  A Herald also for Theme Director Katie Allen and Institute Director Kathy North, for providing ways for me to top up my salary. I will repay in kind in 2015 when I have my whole salary covered, and hopefully beyond. Ana Yap was a great Honours student from MOnash Uni and I was impressed by the quality of all their students.

Next, what are my favourite movies and songs from 2014 (and 2013; sometimes I’m slow to catch on)? First, I filled in a few gaps in my favourite movie genre – time travel. Films I watched included FrequencyLooper, 12 Monkeys, About Time , all great in their own way, and finally the great but head-scratching  Predestination,  and the even more head-scratching and the low budget Primer. My overall favourite films of the year were the weird Under The Skin (filmed in Glasgow with Scarlett Johannsen in disguise) the brilliantly thrilling  Calvary, Read My Lips, and yes, the “Hollywood” but exhilarating Edge of Tomorrow. Other films worth a mention are Philomena, Boyhood and Lucy. Finally, a special mention to the movie Gabrielle, an uplifting drama/romance whose main characters (and most of the actors) all had intellectual impairments. I say “impairments” but the main character, having Williams Syndrome, was perceptive and super-friendly. Heart-warming.

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My favourite albums of the year were “Our Love” by Caribou – brilliant Canadian  electronic artist and very catchy tunes; “Partly Fiction” by Harry Dean Stanton,  such a sweet voice from the veteran actor; “The Island of Dr Electrico” by The Bombay Royale, a great debut album by the Melbourne band with a hot Indian flavour. And a special mention for “All I ever wanted – The Anthology” by the late, great Kirsty MacColl.  So sad that such a talent has been lost.

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I am finishing with my personal achievements of the year, as, someone once said “if you can’t blow your own trumpet, no-one else will”.  In the garden, I have tended every square metre, with failures and successes, the latter in potatoes, chillies (including the World’s hottest),  silverbeet, lettuce, carrots, zucchinis including the amazing Tromboncino.

After dabbling in slightly cushioned trainers and hurting my ankle, I returned to “barefoot” running with the minimalist Vibram 5 fingers. Despite some controversy as to their effectiveness,  I have been injury free since wearing them, I’ve run a half marathon in them and hope to run a full one in 2015. It was also joy to run again after a few months off due to deep vein thrombosis in late 2013. This year I’ve gone further and run totally barefoot on some great Autralian beaches: Ocean Grove, Rainbow Beach, Noosa, Apollo Bay and Sandy Point.

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Highlights at work this year have included having lunch with a princess on behalf on the Australian Twin Registry,  of which I was appointed Deputy Director. I was also elected to the Board of the International Society of twin Studies. at the twins conference in Budapest.

As a Chief Investigator,  I was awarded eight research grants of various sizes, the largest being the five-year NHMRC Centre for Research Excellence in twin Research (Chief Investigator B)  and an NHMRC Project grant asking whether we can predict long-term outcomes of preterm birth, and two that give me great pride:  new studies of epigenetic differences within identical twins discordant  for autism or cerebral palsy. Both are collaborations with hospital clinician teams. I now have the best team I have ever had, with whom I am sure I can at least match  our achievements from 2014.

In 2015 I am looking to secure my own salary in the form of an NHMRC Fellowship; hopefully third time lucky; it’s tough.

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In 2014 I published 11 peer-reviewed papers, a short chapter about DNA in a crowd-funded book, two articles on twins for the Raising Children Network, and, with colleague Don Newgreen, “Why so many domestic mammals have floppy ears” for The Conversation which, via secondary sites such as IFL Science, was read by over 300,000 people.

http://lowres.cartoonstock.com/science-grant-proposal-proposing-business_pitches-research_grant-shrn1509_low.jpgAfter a year of blogging, I have written 15 posts, each one read on average over a thousand times  and posted over 2,500 Tweets in my first year on Twitter as @DrChromo and a few hundred for the Society for the Developmental Origins of Health and Disease Australia and New Zealand and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute . Social media is getting the message out about medical research quicker than ever, to more people and those researchers who don’t use social media will quickly become dinosaurs. There is also an amazing thrill when you Tweet at a conference as part of a group of Tweeters and get feedback from outside the conference including overseas. Try it.

I’ve had fun trying to get the message across to Uni students and “the public” about epigenetics, twins, the early life origins of chronic disease and medical research in general. This is an obligation for all medical researchers, so why not enjoy it. I lectured (unpaid) in the courses: Genetics; Poetics of The Body; Genetics, Health and Society; Societal Issues and Personal Genomics, all at Melbourne Uni; Nutrition and Dietetics and Monash Uni, and in courses at Victoria and Deakin Universities. I went as far afield as Brisbane and Warrnambool to give talks to GPs and in the latter, discovered a little gem of a place in the South West of Victoria. http://visitwarrnambool.com.au/

I also went out and about to talk to Rotary, GPs, teachers, school kids, an, with colleague Richard Saffery, was filmed for a documentary about twins, recently aired in Canada and got to meet Dr Feelgood on radio station 3AW. Talking of radio, I continued in my role as a monthly panelist on community radio 3RRR’s Einstein A Go-Go science show. I also started listening to an excellent request show – Centrelinked – on community radio station NorthWest FM and even went on as a guest co-presenter on a hair-themed to coincide with shaving all my hair off for the Leukaemia Foundation’s World’s Greatest Shave. And coming soon you will get to see the results of the >30 blogs to be published on the new MCRI web site early in the New Year. I commissioned these from MCRI staff and students and interestingly, found that in general, the younger the writer, the better the quality of blog. These are the small mammals that will soon take over the territory of the dinosaurs when the social media meteor really hits. However, for an example of a well-written blog by a seasoned researcher, see Dr Jenny Martin’s blog Espresso Science.

Ultimately, in many ways I have had a good year and wish you all the best for 2015.

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