Lyndsay Murray Q & A

For our first Q and A of 2015, we interview Lyndsay Murray of the University of Edinburgh. Lyndsay has recently begun her own research laboratory, after having produced important results for SMA both in the UK and Canada. Her group aims to better understand what makes motor neurons vulnerable to degeneration in SMA.

When and why did you first decide you wanted to be a scientist?

I had decided I certainly didn’t want to be a scientist. I then did my honours project at university with Prof. Peter Kind. I always thought lab work was repetitive and monotonous. I discovered it was actually a really exciting and dynamic place to work. This experience completely changed my career trajectory.

How did you come to work on SMA?

When I started my PhD with Prof. Tom Gillingwater.The project was to look at neuromuscular junction loss in mouse models of SMA. SMA has remained central in my career as a postdoctoral research scientist, and now as a principle investigator.

What would you be if you weren’t a scientist?

A Physiotherapist. I intended to do a postgraduate course in this after finishing my undergraduate degree. However after my positive experience during my honours project, I completed a Masters in Life Science instead.

If you are not in the lab you are...

Riding horses, in the gym or watching telly with a good glass of wine!

Describe yourself in three words.

Argumentative, Tenacious, Sarcastic

What has been the most important moment of your career so far?

I’d say there were two things. Firstly, learning anatomy. If I had not learnt anatomy during my PhD and postdoctoral positions, I doubt I would have had the opportunity to start my own research group. Academic biomedical research is a very competitive area, and having an unusual skill can give you the edge when applying for jobs. Secondly, moving to Ottawa. I lived there for four years while doing my postdoctoral research and the North American SMA research community has been hugely supportive. This has made a huge difference to my career as an independent investigator.

What is your most memorable finding relating to SMA?

While working with Tom Gillingwater during my PhD, we showed that neuromuscular junctions were lost early in SMA, and were important targets in the disease. This finding has been the springboard for lots of subsequent work. This includes work aimed at understanding why this part of the cell is so vulnerable. This finding has also been a useful outcome measure for lots of different pre-clinical trials.

What is your favourite conference location?

Washington DC – I find it to be a surprisingly elegant city and easy to relax in after an intense meeting!

What is the best scientific advice you ever received?

Tough the **** up!

If you could start your career all over again, are there things you would do differently?

I think there are always things that you could do differently, but I actually look back and consider myself very fortunate that things have worked the way they have. I really enjoy working in the SMA research field. It has been a very exciting field to work in over the past years, and to witness such great strides forward.

In your opinion, what makes a good scientist?

A broad knowledge foundation with a useful specialty. A thick skin often also comes in useful.

Where do you see the SMA research field in the next 10 years?

I hope that if we make as much progress in the next ten years as we have in the last ten years, the SMA research field will be a different place. I very much hope that some of the promising new therapeutics will have shown positive effects in clinical trials, and we’ll be looking at how to make them better. Hopefully we’ll be looking at ways to reverse the damage that has been done, as well as stopping the degenerative process.