Meet Dr Nigel Page, Director of Learning and Teaching at the School of Life Sciences, Pharmacy & Chemistry, Kingston University London. Nigel also dedicates his time to promoting endocrinology, both within his school as a Society Endocrine Ambassador, and outside as a Public Engagement Committee member. Such engagement with the Society could not go unnoticed, so we approached Nigel to ask him about his career and his enviable drive to nurture a passion for endocrinology in others.
Can you talk us through your first steps in endocrinology, and how you got to where you are now in your career?
After graduating in Biological Sciences (Molecular Biology), I completed my doctorate within the Department of Zoology at the University of Reading. My early research career was focussed on the development of transgenic birds and mice; and it was not until 1997 that I was properly introduced to endocrinology, when I undertook a postdoc in the laboratory of Phil Lowry. At the time, work in the laboratory was very much around corticotrophin releasing factor and its binding protein, and adrenal growth. However, a chance visit to the university by Isaac Manyonda, Consultant Obstetrician at St George’s Hospital, London, led to the development of a project that would push the lab, and also my career, in a new direction. Within two years, my project started to yield results that led to the proposal for a role of neurokinin B in pre-eclampsia, the discovery of endokinins and their gene-related peptides, and pregnancy associated plasma protein-A2/E and its splice variants. These were exciting times that coincided with the human genome project nearing completion. Routine bioinformatics was just at the cusp – many researchers were still nervous of it, so the thought of stepping outside of the wet lab and onto the computer for nine months was something unheard of. Subsequently, I spent a lot of time exploring placental cDNA sequences of the fledgling tentative human consensus sequence databases. Phil Lowry used to say that research tends to be cyclic, moving from molecular biology of genes to whole organism physiology and back again – and he was right. It was not long before I realised that being an endocrinologist also required developing my skills in protein purification, chromatography, immunoassays, ligand binding and cell signalling.
In 2006, I was appointed Senior Lecturer at Kingston University London. There, I took much of my first-hand experience to the forefront of my undergraduate teaching, in areas such as the hormonal control of metabolism, protein purification and bioinformatics. My main research area remains in reproductive endocrinology, where I have maintained a small research group and continue to work on gestational disease looking at variations in mRNA splicing, precursor processing and posttranslational modifications of placental peptide hormones. Since 2014, I have been an associate professor, and more recently I have been appointed Director of Learning and Teaching for the School of Life Sciences, Chemistry and Pharmacy (at Kingston), a role that has also led me to participate in a range of pedagogic research projects.
What in your working life makes you happiest?
“I am lucky to have a role that combines both research and teaching. Some of my happiest career moments are those that start with informal chats about research with my students, and lead to a genuine passion and thirst for them to learn more.” – Dr. Nigel Page
I am passionate about creating inclusive scientific communities – I conceived my School’s ‘Discover Research’ fayre, where our undergraduate students get to meet and interact with our research teams. I also had the pleasure of organising and running the Royal Society of Biology’s HUBS Workshop, on implementing inclusive learning and teaching in the biosciences. When it comes to my research, I get most passionate about deciphering the reasons for the differential processing of hormone precursors in different health states, and the determination of the role of posttranslational modifications. Also, from recent collaborative work with parasites, I would like to understand more about the role of endocrine interactions in the host-parasite relationship.
What do you find most fulfilling about being an Endocrine Ambassador?
For many years I was the informal contact for the Society at Kingston, and encouraging new members to engage with the Society was a big part of that. One year, I even received the Society’s accolade for recruiting the most number of new members, as well as helping to recruit some of the first students to the Society’s Student Ambassadors Scheme! So, when the opportunity came along to become an official Endocrine Ambassador and champion endocrinology within my institution, I took it. Kingston has several interdisciplinary research groups, including those involved in diabetes, cancer, drug discovery and delivery, sports science, and nutrition. With the funding opportunities offered to Endocrine Ambassadors, we could organise an event to bring together many of the different flavours of our endocrinology community. Our invited keynote speaker was Gary Frost from Imperial College, who presented on ‘Fermentable carbohydrate-driven appetite regulation in the brain’, and the event was a great success. Overall, being an Ambassador has certainly afforded me the opportunity to get more people involved, stimulate debate, and hopefully convince a few more people of the benefits of being part of the endocrinology community via the Society.
Can you tell us about your involvement with public engagement?
In terms of public engagement, having media exposure of one’s own endocrine work came as part and parcel of having worked in Phil Lowry’s laboratory – I still remember the days when BBC and ITV camera crews used to turn up to the lab! Nonetheless, this was not the reason that drew me to being part of the Society’s Public Engagement Committee. Like many academics, I actively participate and engage with a variety of activities in schools and colleges to promote the biological sciences. I am also a STEM ambassador and work as my institutions’ STEM Insight placement co-ordinator, providing teachers with real-life knowledge and experience to bring careers to life in the classroom. But I also wanted to encourage my own students to have a more proactive engagement with their professional societies, and when I found out that the Society was seeking volunteers to take part in public engagement at a Big Bang Fair I jumped at the chance, also encouraging three of my students to come and participate. We all had a fantastic time – I was impressed and wanted to do more! Subsequently, I was nominated to the Public Engagement Committee. So far, my roles have included updating and editing You and Your Hormones, the public facing website of the Society, and reviewing potential press releases for the Society’s annual conference, SfE BES. For me, the most fulfilling part of it all is helping to create and develop new perspectives in public engagement that have a real impact on society.
What have been your proudest professional experiences so far?
I am proud to have been at the forefront of some quite novel and exciting discoveries in endocrinology over the past few years, with publications in leading journals including Nature and Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences. I also feel privileged to have worked with some very talented and inspiring scientists over the years.
If anyone had told me, in the earlier stages of my career when I lived life between short-term postdoc contracts, that I would be part of the senior management team running a large university department, I would never have believed them. Today, if you ask me about my proudest moments, I’d say they are seeing my students doing well, seeing the pride and joy on the faces of their family and friends at graduation, and being able to nurture the next stages of their career journeys.
Who do you admire most?
Not an easy question to answer – I have met so many people over the years that I have respect for, have learnt so much from, and who have shaped my values. Professionally, I do admire the competence and support of my colleagues, and the dedication and resilience of my students, in what must be tougher times than when I was at university.
What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
In 2008, I set myself the goal of travelling the whole of Britain by train, and I am currently about two thirds of the way to completing it. The only problem is that the bits I need to complete keep getting further away! Perhaps the location of SfE BES 2018 in Glasgow later this year will help with that…
If you weren’t a scientist, what would you be?
One of my students recently told me that I should be an event manager, as I always appear to be organising things, but I would not swap that for a minute with the multifaceted role of being a university academic. On a more serious note – I nearly did pursue a graduate career in retail management, but my PhD mentor, Ken Simkiss, steered me back to science. For this I am truly grateful to him – I have never looked back since!
Do you want to inspire others to pursue endocrinology, too? Find out more about being a Society Endocrine Ambassador.