Alumnus profile #2 – Dr Ceri-Wyn Thomas

Ceri Wyn-ThomasDr Ceri-Wyn Thomas

Publishing editor, IOP Publishing

PhD title: “Decoding the fossil record of embryonic development”

 


1) The Twitter Challenge: Describe your PhD in 140 characters
The taphonomy of Precambrian fossil embryos from the dawn of animal evolution (dusty) with decay experiments on extant invertebrate embryos on the side (smelly).

2) Where are you now? What are you doing?

I work for IOP Publishing, which is a subsidiary of the Institute of Physics. I’m an editor on one of the society’s open access publications, ‘New Journal of Physics. At 15 years old NJP isn’t that ‘new’ any more, but it’s one of the highest impact-factor open access journals in physics today and we publish research in all sub-disciplines from quantum computing to cosmology.  I manage the peer review process and assess whether submissions are suitable for the journal. I’ve also been known to do a bit of marketing, journal development and writing guides for authors.  I occasionally attend conferences to speak to real-life physicists and I review video abstracts (where authors discuss their research on camera to sometimes unintentionally hilarious effect). @NJPhysics Go on, you know you want to follow us.

3) Why did you decide to leave academia?

I had a good time during my Ph.D. and I do miss the intellectual freedom, and the unique challenge that working in academia offers. But I also found academia to be a pretty tough environment at times and it was mostly the thought of potential future issues that put me off sticking around: the constant pursuit of funding, financial and geographical instability, the lack of job security and the promise of other adventures outside of academia all pushed me towards finding a different job.  I know lots of people love working in academia and thrive in that environment but I am happy to say I’m having lots of fun on the other side too and the hours are much more sociable!

Quarry in Weng’an, China
The quarry in Weng’an, China from whence the embryo fossils were extracted by me during my MSc.

4) What is the most useful thing you learnt in your PhD?

Certain tunicates make excellent water pistols (all right I’m joking, animals should never be used as water pistols).  Actually, the best, and most useful thing I learnt was that perseverance is one of the most underrated yet important aspects of research, or indeed of life in general. If you can persevere through times when everything is going wrong, data is statistically useless or you’ve just blown your lab up then you can probably cope with most other challenges life has to throw at you. This is a pretty reassuring and handy thing to know since you can take on other amazing feats with casual bravado and people will think you are awesome.

5) Is there any advice you wish you had taken?

My supervisor once advised me to write my thesis introduction while imbibing a glass of red wine.  I’m not sure why I refused to adopt that approach and I was a little disappointed with the bucket of instant coffee I chose instead. More salient advice came in the form of people telling me to have a little more self-belief. That would have definitely been good advice to take and I repeat it now for anyone reading this too.

6) Your best travel perk

It was decided quite early on that I simply had to go to Australia for 2 months to learn a bit of embryology and perform some decay experiments on embryos from lots of extant fauna and work on my tan. So, I was lucky enough to spend a month on Heron Island research station on the Great Barrier Reef surrounded by coral reefs, turtles and sharks and lots of baby invertebrates. Then I went south to the University of Sydney to work on decaying echinoderm embryos and to learn about evolutionary developmental biology.

I also worked at the Swiss Light Source, just north of Zurich. This is a third generation synchrotron whose photon beam is very useful for looking inside tiny fossilised embryos and constructing detailed X-ray images of their insides. I wholly advocate death ray science to anyone who can justify it for research purposes.  It’s fun.

TOMCAT beamline
The TOMCAT beamline equipment at SLS for scanning embryos (and other tiny fossils)

 

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