Introducing the next SRBR Public Outreach Fellow

Andrew Beale (MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, UK) has been chosen to become the next SRBR Public Outreach Fellow. As the third such fellow, he will support the public outreach mission of the society to advance the visibility and impact of biological rhythms by means of a multi-faceted social media strategy. He takes over this position from Bharath Ananthasubramaniam (Humboldt Universität zu Berlin, Germany) who completes his two-year tenure on June 30, 2022. 

We interviewed Andrew to learn a bit more about him and his plans for SRBR Outreach.

Hi Andrew. Congratulations on becoming the next SRBR Public Outreach Fellow! Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Hello! I am Andrew Beale, a postdoc/staff scientist in John O’Neill’s group at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, UK. 

I’ve not had the most linear academic path in my career so far: I started in chronobiology in 2008 with a chance visit to the lab of David Whitmore during my PhD rotation year (which was supposed to be focusing on developmental biology!). I was immediately hooked (no pun intended) by the Astyanax cavefish and the project of circadian rhythms in cave environments.. I took on this project for my PhD and enjoyed it immensely. I took some time out of research after my PhD and took up a couple of short positions in public engagement and a stint living in Mozambique for my wife’s work. But I came back to chronobiology in 2016 with a short postdoc at the University of Surrey with Malcolm von Schantz on community sleep in Mozambique and Brazil, before taking another short postdoc in Surrey with Fatima Labeed on circadian rhythms in red blood cells. That project led me to John O’Neill who I joined as a postdoc in 2018 to continue working on molecular mechanisms of cellular circadian rhythms. My current work is looking at the role of temperature sensitivity of protein translation in circadian entrainment.

I’m a dad to two lovely little boys who are 4 and 1, and a husband to an incredible International Development specialist in Water, Sanitation and Hygiene.

What inspired you to apply for the Public Outreach fellow position?

Since the start of my academic career I’ve been drawn to public engagement and outreach. Not only do I think it is essential to tell people what their tax-payers money is being spent on and engage them in the direction of that research, but I also really enjoy sharing how cool science can be. I know not all people are wired like me and interested in the minutiae of an experiment, but I think there’s something in science for everyone to enjoy and it’s just a case of finding out what that is for each person. I find chronobiology one of those fields that is so flexible in finding out that particular something – it is so universal that it is easy to find something that can grab the attention of whomever you are talking to. There’s a reason so many papers start with “Circadian rhythms are a ubiquitous feature of life on Earth” etc etc! With the fall out of the pandemic, the polarization of society on many issues, and the ever increasing complexity of scientific research and techniques, it’s a very important time for chronobiology, and science as a whole, to engage with people. 

But the Public Outreach Fellow brief of course covers both outreach and inreach – promoting chronobiology amongst scientific audiences. Many biologists are beginning to take timing into account (perhaps not perfectly controlled but it’s a start), and we in the O’Neill lab do our best at the level of our institute, but 80% of papers still don’t report time of day (Nelson et al BMC Biology 2022). This is not great for the reliability of data! SRBR is in a strong position to influence this to improve biological research as a whole. So I was very excited by the chance to be part of the SRBR team to direct the outreach and inreach of chronobiology on an international scale.

What plans do you have in mind for your term as the Public Outreach fellow? What would you like to achieve?

Laura and Bharath have done a lot of excellent ground work and continuing that momentum will be a major part of my plans. So this includes the growing science Twitter community, increasing the visibility of young chronobiologists and the diversity in the field, as well as the use of online presentations and video through Clockbites and other recorded presentations. But I do particularly love outreach, i.e. talking and discussing science with non-specialists from school age to old age, and so I hope to do more of that. Obviously key topics (daylight saving time, artificial light, jet lag, sleep and medicine) reflect the Society’s history and depth of knowledge and lend themselves to outreach and I believe the greatest impact from an outreach point of view will be made with the shorter videos. So together with Clockbites, I would like to explore making more of the platforms of YouTube Shorts and/or Tiktok. Science communication during the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us how real-life situations of huge social interest can attract a huge interest in the science behind them and I would hope to take advantage of that. I need your help to do this so please continue to contact the SRBR Outreach team with your interesting papers and ideas for turning them into videos.

I have a few other ideas that I’d like to explore: adding to the fantastic Public Outreach Briefs; I’ve always wanted to organize a Wikipedia Edit-a-thon for chrono pages; and on the inreach side of things going cellular and promote the importance of timing on every cell process. 

What do you like to do in your spare time?

Oh how I wish I had spare time! My ‘spare time’ is taken up almost entirely by my children. We as a family enjoy the outdoors, so much of our time is spent on bikes or on walks or visiting family. I also enjoy cooking. Most of the time this is focused on being creative to find interesting foods and recipes for my kids, but when it is not children-focused I am searching for the perfect ragu.

Lastly, the most importantly: what’s your chronotype?

Currently I am a lark. I’m not sure how much of that is a driven phenotype or endogenous as I have the two children under 5 rather dictate my waking time (and therefore bedtime)!