Name: Dr Andrew Walley
Current Job: Senior Lecturer at St George’s University of London
Scientific Discipline/Field: Human Genomics
Country: United Kingdom
Pick some letters: G
Twitter or other social media handle: @AndrewJWalley
What does your job involve?
As an academic I have a very varied job. My main research area is in the contribution of variation in the human genome to human disease, mostly in the area of common diseases such as obesity, allergy and infectious disease. Currently, I supervise students for research projects at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels. I have a substantial teaching load and I am involved at many levels of the education process, including lecturing, small-group tutorials, personal tutoring, design and marking of exams and running modules.
How did you get to this job (education etc.)?
Coming from a comprehensive school background and a family where no-one had gone to university I was lucky enough to go to a sixth-form college that encouraged me to apply to Oxford University and I started there in 1984. I did Biochemistry as an undergraduate and then stayed on to do a D.Phil. in Virology. After that I took advantage of the fantastic research environment to do a series of postdoctoral positions working in different areas of Human Genetics, until at last I left Oxford in 2003 to move to London. I took up the position of Genome Centre manager at Imperial College but in 2005 I managed to transfer to being a full-time academic lecturer working on common genetic disease, mainly obesity. In 2015, I moved to St George’s to take up my current Senior Lecturer post.
Do you feel being LGBT has affected your career decisions?
I think being LGBT affected my decisions about my career a number of times. The main negative one was my decision not to do Medicine at university. This was governed by my perception at the time that being gay was not compatible with being a medical doctor, mostly due to my very negative view of being gay that I had as a teenager in the late seventies/ early eighties. Thankfully, I managed to move away from that view once I had come out to my close family and the main way that being LGBT affected me from then on was just whether or not I needed to stay or move depending on where my partner at the time was living. For example, my move down to London was to live with my current partner, as was our subsequent move out into Kent so we would have a better quality of life.
Have you had any reactions from colleagues about being LGBT, either good or bad?
I’m very happy to say that the vast majority of people have either reacted positively or neutrally so it hasn’t been a problem. In fact, I was recently speaking to someone I used to work for in the nineties and he said that he found it a lot easier to talk to his daughter when she came out, knowing that I had been open with him when I joined his research group as a post-doc.
Did you have any role models growing up (LGBT, STEM, totally unrelated…)?
The only real role models that I can think of were my parents, who were very clear about being yourself, being open and honest and working hard, all things that I still focus on after all this time. Given how into science fiction I was from an early age, I have to give my Dr Who (Tom Baker) a nod as a role model of how to act using logic and reason but not at the expense of empathy and compassion.
What are your plans for the future?
My long-term aim has always been to reach the level of Professor so I will continue to work towards that but fundamentally I have reached a stage where I am happy with my job and very happy with my partner of seventeen years.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Just that I would encourage everyone to take part in any local LGBT groups or form their own if they don’t exist. I was chair of the St George’s staff LGBT group last year and deputy chair of the Imperial 600 LGBT group before that and both were very rewarding experiences. LGBT groups are safe spaces where you can be yourself, talk to others from very different backgrounds but with similar experiences and get the support that you might need at times when things are not going right, whether LGBT-related or not. They are not without their politics but don’t let that put you off, I have found them to be very worthwhile, wherever I have been at the time.