You can read our first interview with Jon in 2016 here.
Current Job: Lecturer in Endocrine Biochemistry
Scientific Discipline/Field: Biochemistry and Endocrinology
Pick some letters (L,G,B,T,Q etc.): G
What does your job involve?
As a scientist, I see it as a great privilege to be allowed to follow my own curiosity. However, there are limits to this, one is the capacity and funding to do your research, the other one are your colleagues doing peer-review of grants and papers. In practice this means that I have consciously focused my biochemical research on quite a small subject – sulfation pathways – and have grown slowly, but steadily ever since. An important twist came from the move to Birmingham. Here I could re-frame my very research in a vibrant translational context: sulfation regulation of sex steroids is so much more relevant to human health than sulfation alone. In addition to research, my work consists of teaching and admin around this area.
How did you get to this job (education etc.)?
Already as a young boy I wanted to be a professor. Later I studied biochemistry, did a PhD in biochemistry and, after a period of postdoc and senior postdoc, my Habilitation (DSci equivalent), a central-European qualification to conduct self-contained university teaching. Then I was actively recruited to Birmingham as my biochemical research pretty much fitted into their endocrine work on sex hormone regulation by sulfation. Well, I left unmentioned the many moments of uncertainty, the many deep valleys within my research career and some challenging experiences with mental health issues. Although it was hard getting there, now it’s a fantastic job with a high degree of personal freedom.
Do you feel being LGBT has affected your career decisions?
Never there were any doubts whether to go to university or not, completely independent of LGBT. Only the subject was of some debate and in the end I chose biochemistry. If I read nowadays that LGBT are more often out in academic settings than somewhere else, it might have been the right choice for me.
Have you had any reactions from colleagues about being LGBT, either good or bad?
I must say that I only had very positive feedback from within the scientific community. Several colleagues really like to come to ours, when my husband and I do the cooking… A relatively new addition to this topic is that I started to officially register my husband at more and more conferences, again only with positive reactions so far.
Did you have any role models growing up (LGBT, STEM, totally unrelated…)?
Several father-like figures were very important in my life: obviously my long-gone father himself, the presumably gay Latin teacher at A-levels, as well as several of my professors at university. One of them, my biochemistry prof, is noteworthy in a LGBT-STEM context. While teaching basic metabolism, he devoted some time to the life and achievements of one of the greatest biochemists, Otto Warburg, who was gay and of Jewish decent and worked in Berlin in historically very difficult times. This taught me that we can have LGBT on the agenda, even when discussing atoms, molecules and chemical reactions between them.
What are your plans for the future?
I wish there would be more of academic LGBT networking. In the past, I had several LGBT students who were highly productive in the lab; some of them I am still in friendly contact with. I would be grateful if this would continue. In the next some years I see my group to grow moderately, continuing to present our research findings in high quality papers and conferences on cool places on this planet. Otherwise I concentrate on our own home and garden and try to live a balanced and peaceful live.
Anything else you’d like to add?
It is a good feeling to work at an institution of higher education, the University of Birmingham, who have a dedicated Deputy Pro-Vice Chancellor for Equalities and who features in the list of Britain’s most LGBT-friendly workplaces.