Q&A with Prof. Eckersall

By 4th November 2019 Interviews

Prof. David Eckersall is the Professor of Veterinary Biochemistry at the University of Glasgow.

In MANNA project he is the coordinator of the whole project.


How much difficult was to select the ESRs among lot of applications coming from all over the World?

The selection of the ESRs for MANNA was a difficult task to undertake especially with the high calibre of the applicants who came from countries all over the world and not just from Europe.  In addition, with 6 universities from six countries involved, the process had to be aligned with the recruitment practises in each of the universities to ensure a fair process for all applicants.  With an outline of each project on the MANNA website the applications were submitted and after careful perusal to ensure eligibility of each candidate short lists were prepared for each ESR position.  Interviews were held with candidates using an advanced on-line system allowing the supervisors from both universities involved in a project to participate.  The outcome of the selection process has been to produce a superb cohort of ESRs that are expected to complete the MANNA project in full.

How MANNA was born?

MANNA had a long and involved gestation covering interaction between the universities over a decade or more. Although there was contact between the PIs at the universities in the form of contact at international meetings the first major collaboration covering most participants was in the COST Action on Farm Animal Proteomics which lasted from 2011 to 2014.  This EU funded project, which itself needed repeated applications over three annual submissions, allowed frequent contact between laboratories and as well as holding annual meetings, a number of Short Term Scientific Missions were undertaken with students travelling between institutes. At the end of the COST Action, a number of further EU project applications were submitted to keep the momentum of collaboration progressing. After three separate but linked applications in the area of applications of “omic” sciences to animal science, the MANNA project was successful in obtaining funding for this prestigious European Joint Doctorate.

Why is it important for a PhD student (or a student in general) to be in touch with more universities and companies?

A main feature of MANNA is that the ESRs are supervised at two universities for their Dual PhD Degrees and during their studies they will visit other institutes and companies for their placements.  These visits will be important to widen their experience, to increase their understanding of the translation of science from the laboratory to having significant impact in the real world, to develop a network of contacts in academia and industry and to experience working in different cultures across Europe. Having the two supervisors, often from differing disciplines in their projects should provide the PhD students with a wide understanding of the latest developments in multiple areas of science which may mean that their careers may move in ways they might not have imagined before MANNA. Taken altogether these will give the ESRs a boost in future career wherever they go in animal and biological sciences or beyond.

Which advices would you like to give to an ESR for a brilliant career?

Some advice that can be given to an ESR to have a brilliant career, is of relevance to the next 3 years but more can apply for your post-MANNA life. If you read and understand the literature to be aware of what research has gone before; understand all the methods relevant to your research area; recognise and answer gaps in the current knowledge to seek new questions to address; learn to apply statistics to ensure significant results; develop expertise in writing papers in English for publication in international journals; become adept at making incisive conference presentations, but do not overestimate the knowledge of the audience; invent novel methods of investigation or analysis; be aware that strange results may lead to new discovery but confirm a new finding before dissemination; build a network of international contacts; contribute to the organisation of national and international associations; do not believe everything your elders and betters say; acquire a mentor who will provide an invisible hand in your academic career and who will glory in your progress; look forward to going to the laboratory every day, then you will have a great and brilliant career.

What do you expect to obtain in terms of results from the MANNA projects?

From the MANNA project the priority result is that all ESRs will become highly competent scientists and will graduate with Dual Degrees from the two Universities where they are registered. To accomplish this, each project is expected to produce novel and interesting findings that can be published in leading scientific journals. On another level the MANNA project expects to provide the scientific and related training such that all of the ESRs will go on to have a successful career in scientific or industrial research and contribute to our knowledge of animal health and nutrition and especially in the use of “omic” technology at the cutting edge of science to these areas.  Predicting exact results that will come the MANNA projects is a fool’s errand for supervisors as well as students.  Indeed, the most interesting results are those we do not expect that can then lead onto new hypotheses and further experimentation, so we are in the realm of seeking out both known unknowns and also unknown unknowns.  We fully expect there to be a raft of experimental results which by the end of MANNA will make a major contribution to European Research.


Questions: Ruben Riosa