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Gail McConnell (University of Strathclyde)

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About this episode

#44 — Gail McConnell, Professor of Biophotonics at the University of Strathclyde chats to Peter O’Toole about her groundbreaking work developing new imaging techniques on the Mesolens, discusses her career highlights, and remembers the time she once got into trouble at an international conference. We’ll discuss creating good work-life balance, and how the first ever female professor of physics at the University of Strathclyde wasn’t immune to feelings of imposter syndrome early in her career.

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This is an automated transcript and may not be 100% accurate.

Intro/Outro (00:00:01):
Welcome to The Microscopists, a Bitesize Bio podcast hosted by Peter O’Toole, sponsored by Zeiss Microscopy. Today on The Microscopists.

Peter O’Toole (00:00:14):
Today on The Microscopists, I meet with Gail McConnell, Professor of Physics and Director of the Center, Biphotonic at the University of Strathclyde. And not only do we talk about her groundbreaking work, developing new imaging instruments and techniques, but we also discuss her career highlights.

Gail McConnell (00:00:29):
You know, getting the first machines up and run, seeing the first results there. The first gonna continued results can see that this is actually gonna work,

Peter O’Toole (00:00:37):
How she wants to ruffle feathers at an international conference

Gail McConnell (00:00:42):
You don’t have to be scared out your face we were working that for three years

Peter O’Toole (00:00:45):
Years, despite becoming the first female physics professor at Strathclyde at just 34, Gail still had doubt early in her career.

Gail McConnell (00:00:53):
I think it was also to use some new, new language impostor syndrome. But I was convinced absolutely everybody surrounding me really knew what, you know, they had it together

Peter O’Toole (00:01:06):
And Gail still being able to maintain a healthy worklife balance

Gail McConnell (00:01:11):
Professionally. Yeah, I can totally see the point in that, personally, that doesn’t really fit my plans. So it’s about a tough one

Peter O’Toole (00:01:18):
All in this episode of The Microscopists. Hello, I’m Peter O’Toole from the University of York and today on The Microscopists, I’m joined by my mate Gail McConnell from the University of Strathclyde. Hello, Gail.

Gail McConnell (00:01:38):
Well, Peter, how are you?

Peter O’Toole (00:01:40):
I’m good. Thank you. We’ve actually, I I’ve worked this out, how long we’ve known each other and I think it’s 19 years.

Gail McConnell (00:01:49):
Your calculations match is mine. I would say almost 19 years, April 2002

Peter O’Toole (00:01:56):
At go on. Where was it then?

Gail McConnell (00:02:00):

Peter O’Toole (00:02:02):
It, what, what I D which one? I dunno if I know it or not

Gail McConnell (00:02:06):
Focus on microscopy. How would the probably Aho?

Peter O’Toole (00:02:11):
Yes, no. Yeah, it was FoM in Genoa, but can you ever say Genoa and I don’t know who, I dunno if I know her or not. If you know her

Gail McConnell (00:02:23):
Have I ,

Peter O’Toole (00:02:25):
You should have known they were coming.

Gail McConnell (00:02:27):
Oh dear. I can believe I have a terrible wifi connection. Yeah. It’s

Peter O’Toole (00:02:32):
So yes, FoM, Genoa which was, I was my big first international conference.

Gail McConnell (00:02:40):
It was not mine, but it was my first European national conference strangely there, a PhD student. I’d gone to meetings in San Francisco and in Baltimore. I’m not gonna, I see it too loudly. So can I sort watch and whisper it but they were not as good as FoM. it was too big. And as a PhD student, you dunno, can everything have a chat. Fom It’s, you know, it’s a few hundred folk. yeah, I was kind of blown away by, you know, partly Genoa itself, it’s jealous its lovely yeah, it, it was just great to actually meet and talk to people. yeah. Thoroughly enjoyed that great meeting. but I was out party. So it’s what for that

Peter O’Toole (00:03:21):
it was oh, actually I just thought you sent me some pictures. Didn’t you? I’m not very organized at all today. Yeah.

Gail McConnell (00:03:27):
Yeah strap yursel in

Peter O’Toole (00:03:30):

Gail McConnell (00:03:36):
Yeah. That’s that’s not Fom.

Peter O’Toole (00:03:37):
No, no,

Gail McConnell (00:03:40):
I’m fine.

Peter O’Toole (00:03:41):
It was Al’s gig, wasn’t it? Yes. Know,

Gail McConnell (00:03:45):
I think this was about 2018 ish. I mean, it seems to be bit kinda any excuse to get some friends together, but you know, there’s good scientific benefit in all this, it’s not all fancy dinners and drinking,

Peter O’Toole (00:03:59):
But obviously he’s not just Albi that’s on that picture. Do you wanna talk us to who else is on there?

Gail McConnell (00:04:04):
Oh, if I can remember [inaudible], some idiot in a pink jumper, Albi Diastro [Inaudible] , Colin Shepperd, Ammasi Periasamy, who I believe is now at Heriot Watt the last time, I’m thinking, I heard, I’m guessing she still there ?

Peter O’Toole (00:04:19):
That a pretty powerful set of microscopists.

Gail McConnell (00:04:24):
Yes, if you take me out the picture.

Gail McConnell (00:04:29):
No, you know, if you look at their impacts on the field, it’s pretty, pretty big. So no, it was FOM. I remember, I think just two of us went for dinner. Cause I knew no one, I, I think Steph and Timo Zimmerman I knew those two. And then you, you kind of know some of the companies that are there, but that was about it. So

Gail McConnell (00:04:51):
My collection of this is slightly different. And it’s when I appeared at the registration desk now slightly nervous, you I’m post at this point. And you appeared behind me and you started talking at me as if you knew me and I’m thinking, who is this guy? I’m not you remembering. So, and he says, oh yeah, you’re from UK. You do blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And at that point I like, OK, this is gonna be fine. But the only other memory, I have of that meeting apart from the, we, you know, making, making a bit of fuss was one evening, you and I went rugby the somewhere and it was we’ll call it a very character filled place, we were sitting outside. It was beer. And you were just berating me, because you were like, why the flow woman, the flow woman was amazing. She had the fringe, this stuff was terrific. You should have seen this. And I was like, oh, I dunno. I think it was in you the moment, time session. I thought you missed that Gail. You thought you missing, you should have seen it. I wish you could have been there, this went on for a good hour and a half. So, you know, I still don’t know who this flow woman is this gonna change my entire career?

Peter O’Toole (00:06:04):
That was a lifetime ago.

Gail McConnell (00:06:07):
Oh no, no, no. It’s still fresh in mind.

Peter O’Toole (00:06:12):
I guess I’m a lot quieter now.

Gail McConnell (00:06:16):
Has age mellowed you is that what you’re trying to tell me, still happening. I

Peter O’Toole (00:06:20):
Absolutely. I probably had coffee or something and I wasn’t used to having caffeine.

Gail McConnell (00:06:25):
I think genuinely you were just excited at the flow

Peter O’Toole (00:06:30):
Yeah, it was a really good conference. And the parallel sessions, it was, it was one of those few times actually. It was very hard to know which parallel to go to. Yeah.

Gail McConnell (00:06:39):
Yeah. And, and there was not 10 parallel sessions. It’s kinda, that’s nice means you don’t miss too much except to flow.

Peter O’Toole (00:06:48):
So what was your main go to conference there then?

Gail McConnell (00:06:53):
I’m not sure I have one. I find increasingly, especially because of my main science project I’m not quite microscopy any longer, it’s imaging it’s optic go, you know, there’s appropriate phases. Yeah. But the meso skills thing, I dunno, I’m not really sure you read any that we tend just, we will be useful and interesting increasing all, I guess, because of biological applications that we’re doing now, I’m sending students and post meetings that I, I dunno anything about, you know, so we’re right. S now sort, for example, for Eurobio phots, I know next to nothing about this meeting, but you know, the line up looks tremendous. You know, students are desperate to go. Great. You know, so I’m not sure we have any go to meetings the one or two, I guess is that I would probably routinely turn up to are Frontiers in Bio imaging and MMC in the UK. And it’s not just because of down the road. I quite like the kinda size of these meetings. I find that when you go to the, the kinda larger international conferences, I said, previously, you, you kinda meet about 2% of the people that are there. I don’t really enjoy that. I think more intimate meetings, but you actually talk to the people that are there.

Peter O’Toole (00:08:14):
It, it’s interesting that you’re sending your PhDs, your postdocs to meetings at a slightly outside, outside the optics field.

Gail McConnell (00:08:22):
Very outside the optic field

Peter O’Toole (00:08:24):
. If you think about, if you read grant proposals, I’m gonna say, how are you going to disseminate what your science is? And you hear it’s the same meetings that they’re going to disseminate it to, but they’re talking to like-minded people who aren’t the end users of it necessarily. So you are now sending to the bio meetings, the more application orientated, which is where you are a bit of fish outta water, cuz you are more niche, but you are providing a solution. So I presume this is a way of actually taking your developments to the field that are going to need it. Rather just talking to micropscopists you’re talking to the end users.

Gail McConnell (00:08:58):
Yeah. I mean, I guess this is one of the, one of the very many problems with grant applications is that they often hide more than the reveal and the structure and format of grant applications. Doesn’t really allow you to think about, you know, what happens beyond, for example, this, and I realize there’s for one funding and all these types things, but I guess primarily we develop methods and instruments and if those are unsuccessful, we don’t go to meetings do like S or, you know, the kinda applications based. We need to have done that work first, before we get to the applications. And often what we find is when we develop some new technology or another, we think it’s gonna be really successful in one application area. And actually it turns out that the applications are somewhere completely different and it’s difficult to predict.

Peter O’Toole (00:09:50):
So, so let’s just go back in time. So you, you now professor of physics, director of bio biophotonics

Gail McConnell (00:10:00):
Aye, something like that. Yeah.

Peter O’Toole (00:10:05):
Interesting. Bio. Why is Bionics Photonics

Gail McConnell (00:10:09):
Is there a verb in that sentence? I’m not entirely sure. Why is Bio photonics. Why is Peter? Um why, why is bio photonics? Certainly in my case Bio photonics is because it was a term that I, that existed before I appeared . So I was a PhD student in the physics department and I had a job lined up industry. This was kinda summer 2001. I had no plans to remain in academia whatsoever. I actively did not want stay in academia. And then in September 2001, international events, the world trade center and so on ended, and a lot of graduate recruiters panicked and was through the job offer around was one of the folk that were affected. So obviously very minor in the grand scheme of, you know, the, the situation at the time, but it went, you know, pay rent. So my PhD advisor at time, Alison Ferguson, had said, oh, we’ve got the 3 month postdoc in this new for Bio photonics that were up would you be interested in that, I said yes, so I appear there and yeah, that, that’s why Bio photonics is the Center for Bio photonics had just opened a few months previous this, there a wee bit of postdoc cash, I turned up Bio photonics is, is, is won’t be, are doing. And so that’s therefore what I’m doing and what I’m kinda still doing I guess

Peter O’Toole (00:11:34):
So when you were 10 years old, to take way back. So that sounds really sorry. So take you back to when you were 10, not way back, I’m not saying you in

Gail McConnell (00:11:43):
It’s way back. It’s fine. I’ll measure. I, yeah.

Peter O’Toole (00:11:48):
So when you were a young girl, what was your aspiration, what did, what did you want to be be, where did you see your future at that age?

Gail McConnell (00:11:55):
I didn’t have any aspirations, I mean, makes it sound as if I was thinking about what was gonna happen when it was like this said I absolutely was not. I did not really have any kinda aspiration, motivations or drivers. I mean, I probably had family around me that would kinda suggest things. But I did know, by the time I was 10 I had my first home computer and that was a ZX spectrum plus. And you know, the first thing you do is you go in a game and you have a replay and that’s all very nice and then realize that there was a wee bit more to it than this and if I typed certain words in, other things could happen, you could turn the screen blue, then I realised you know, as a nine or 10 year old, been able to turn the screen blue and have control over this. I found it quite powerful. So then I started teaching myself some basic programming and, you know, I realized, you know, my mum’s coming up to my bedroom, but I’m sitting the summer go outside and play, but I’m interested in, you know, but computing at this point. So yeah, but I still played cause I like being outdoors. So yeah.

Peter O’Toole (00:13:00):
What was your favorite computer game?

Gail McConnell (00:13:03):
Oh, right. Okay. There’s so many. Do you mean then or now

Peter O’Toole (00:13:06):
Now, now Go to your Zx spectrum first. And then we’ll go to now

Gail McConnell (00:13:08):
ZX the first game I played Horis goes skiing. Oh,

Peter O’Toole (00:13:12):
Forgot all about that.

Gail McConnell (00:13:14):
Yeah. And I mean, just it’s like kinda Froger style. You have to navigate a little spider called Horis across a busy road to start with, and then there’s some complete discontinuity. Somebody had clearly been taking the good drugs at this point, because once you get Horis to the bottom of this Slaloms it cuts screen. No, sorry, you get him across the road, you have to make, ’em go skiing down a slalom then you go back and the traffic get gets a bit busier. So then you have to get across screen from top to bottom frogger style then your taken down a slalom again, but then there’s more little goals. I mean what made somebody think what we really need was a traffic based scenario covered with steel , what’s that about? I’ve no idea. Probably the games enjoy more, but a bit later when the platform based jetset willy manic minor rollercoaster, that type of thing, where you had control over a single person G improved and so on. So yeah, that now’s different. You still have control over a person, but like you world strateg still,

Peter O’Toole (00:14:15):
Are you still a gamer then

Gail McConnell (00:14:17):
Yes. So in fact I was doing a practice viva one, my students last night, who was also a gamer. So after the practice viva, we spent, you know, a good half hour chatting about what games were playing and so on. And I told him that I’m currently playing Fallout 76 and he berated me for this. He went through me. He said, why are you playing this? It’s terrible. And I had to explain it’s now on something that season seven it’s been through iterations, it’s much better. It’s better moment. Four like four. Yeah. Yeah, I, I’m still working my way through fallout 76 and I, I I’ve done the main parts game and I just cannot wait it go. I’m gonna have to move on because yeah. I found myself thinking last night, I could just go back in. No.

Peter O’Toole (00:15:00):
And what’s your console?

Gail McConnell (00:15:02):
Oh, right. So we look at a switch PS4 and PS5 and my partner is now also playing forward. So he’s the PS4 I’m using the PS five. He’s sitting on an iPad. I’m sitting with a TV. Yeah. It’s ridiculous. You know, the conversation is mainly based at the moment.

Peter O’Toole (00:15:25):
Yes. So what got you into physics,

Gail McConnell (00:15:29):
Oh, good question person rather than a set of circumstances. I think when I went to secondary school, I had a very good physics teacher. A guy called Jim Tinny and Jim, I guess, would be described as a kinda typical geek now. But I quite like the sense of humor. I like the fact that it was logical. It was kinda analytical that if you repeat measurements, you know, you build up a kinda statistical, yeah, just the, that this is quite interesting and elegant and I liked the rules that surrounded it. And yeah, and then I kind of fell away for science, sort about I had never intended to study physics at university. I’d applied to study modern languages and I’ve accepted the place. And then at the oven. So I changed my mind, decided it wasn’t in vocational enough in physics through clean because I don’t have the appropriate qualifications struggled through about the first year then started to really enjoy it.

Peter O’Toole (00:16:43):
So you say you didn’t have the, the best qualifications at A level to go into university. And that first year was, I guess, catch up time

Gail McConnell (00:16:51):
A bit of that. But I think it was also to use some new, new language imposer syndrome. Where I was convinced that absolutely everybody didn’t really knew what, you know, what they had it together. They knew what they were doing and then kinda toward end the I that a lot, these people dropping out, but I’m still in the room. Maybe I’m not doing as badly as I thought, and I’m still there, yeah. And then I realized that I, I put in a wee bit more work I could actually be quite good at this. I’m no saying I was good, but I certainly there was an improvement, a considerable improvement.

Peter O’Toole (00:17:27):
Was that, was that at Strathclyde as well?

Gail McConnell (00:17:30):
Yeah. So I’ve gone from school at Strathclyde and I’m still at Strathclyde defectively.

Peter O’Toole (00:17:36):
Well, that’s pretty rare.

Gail McConnell (00:17:38):

Peter O’Toole (00:17:40):
Yeah. I remember when I was doing a PhD. Well actually I, I do my undergraduate PhD and my first postdocs at the same. Yeah. Which was unusual and still have a career even more unusual, just very lucky. I think.

Gail McConnell (00:17:58):
Well, luck has so much to do with it.

Peter O’Toole (00:18:00):
It does. You always recommend, if you must have been told, if you’re gonna succeed, you have to move. That’s what I was always told. You know, you shouldn’t really do the PA in the same place, but the lab was great. Why am I gonna leave one of the best labs? And then you do your PhD. Then the postdoc goes, well, I can carry on working in one of the best labs and carry on doing what I’m good at. And you know, I, in the end I got itchy. I, I, I needed to move to, to freshen up, but you must have had the same advice

Gail McConnell (00:18:28):
And I’m still receiving the same advise even now. It’s, you know, you should think about, you know, having some time overseas and so on, but I mean, professionally, yeah. I can totally see the point in that. Personally, that doesn’t really fit in with my plans. So it’s a bit of a tough one. I guess I was also lucky in as much as that a couple fellowships that, that best part, about seven years, cause he fellowship run alternate with a overlap between them. Although I was employed to look at Strathclyde, I think spend a lot of time there, you know, visited labs worldwide and you know, a sense of how to work differently from what I had either experienced previously or what I saw around me. And that, that I think was quite useful

Peter O’Toole (00:19:16):
Would to, to obviously it’s had no negative effect on your career.

Gail McConnell (00:19:21):
We don’t know that maybe it has

Peter O’Toole (00:19:25):
Well, you finished your apprenticeship at a fairly young age.

Gail McConnell (00:19:29):
I I’m trying to work it out. No, but yeah, I think it was 4 35. Yeah. Yeah. Realized. Yeah.

Peter O’Toole (00:19:36):
Which is, which is very young to get a professorship and in the world of physics as well. It is, again, we, you must be one of the first professors in physics at Strathclyde

Gail McConnell (00:19:50):
Professor physics,

Peter O’Toole (00:19:52):
Female, female.

Gail McConnell (00:19:54):
Yes I am the first. Yeah. I mean, there’s other female professors around just not in Physics Department, when we now have a second one, which I’m absolutely delighted with.

Peter O’Toole (00:20:05):
It’s a strange, so from, from coming from the bio side where actually certainly at York gender equality is pretty good and it’s not something you, you don’t have about much. It’s just kind of invasive there’s as many high impacting. In fact, I’ve got to say at the department, my go-tos have been the likes of Ottoline Leyser, Debbie Smith. You know, they, they have been my rocks in many aspects when it comes to grant writing, supporting, and research and academia that, it’s amazing that in the world of physics it’s, it’s behind still, and I think it’s still behind.

Gail McConnell (00:20:46):
Yeah. I mean, if, if I look at the statistics, even the Institute of physics are publishing. Yeah. We’re, we’ve got a lot of work to do. Wow. It’s I find it curious that you mentioned that these, these female professors have been your rock and often we see that, that the kinda how, how do I put this, the kinda social or cultural load sometimes falls to women within departments. So yeah, that’s something that I see funders being increasingly aware of too.

Peter O’Toole (00:21:17):
Yeah. I, I say, rocks cause they were the most supportive people in my career beyond my director, John you know, our team was very pushing my career. And Debbie also was really keen to help me progress my career. And, and so they were inspirational in, in driving that forward. And I, I, I, I dunno why particularly them in the department, I, I guess Debbie, she was head department and then by chance left for research. I, but Ottoline wasn’t at the time. But yeah, they certainly helped. You told me I should be leading the grant applications, you know, cause I was in an atypical position and to be leading grant applications, wasn’t the typical thing to be done, but they were like, no, no, no, you lead it. You know, it makes sense for you to lead. That was pretty rare at the time. It’s good to see BBSRC, now really pushing that agenda or the sort of technician’s commitment to gender and the other supporting roles. But you, York was there back then, how daunting was it to be a professor at 34? You talked about imposter syndrome when you started your degree. That’s

Gail McConnell (00:22:29):
At that point, it’s just a lot of, same, you, you don’t think, but other people use the title. And I guess the only other people that really use the title are students who are looking for an extension are yeah, that’s it? That, that is exactly the only people use. And I’m not really big on titles so I don’t really pay much attention to, to be honest.

Peter O’Toole (00:22:50):
So what what’s, what’s only a credit card.

Gail McConnell (00:22:53):
I dunno. I think it says Dr yeah, it does. Yeah. I bother changing appointment. I do that.

Peter O’Toole (00:23:02):
And what’s your 12 digit number?

Gail McConnell (00:23:04):
It’s also my mother’s maiden name.

Peter O’Toole (00:23:14):
That just sad. I can actually, I actually know my 12 digit number. Isn’t

Gail McConnell (00:23:18):
That almost? Yeah, almost 16 digit numbers. Because if, without always, If it’s a 12 digit number, you’re not going your no going anywhere Peter

Peter O’Toole (00:23:27):
No, I always have to check the plus four while I don’t wanna be a liability. Come on, work on the meso lens that, that isn’t where you started. You didn’t start very much. I knew you from your laser work. So super continuum lasers. My recollection.

Gail McConnell (00:23:47):
I mean, I guess that, that was not where I started really. I mean, I started building like before probably you start to pump dial, and you call dialectic crystal and you build a resume around it and then you try move, you do something to tailor the output, then build optical, post one, be frequency. And that’s kinda really where I started. And I then joined this center for Bio photonics I mentioned previously in the 3 months appointment. Three months turned into two years, 3 months into years. And about a year into that appointment, I was working with electrophysiologist called Alison Gurney who’s now at University of Manchester. Not so not really a microscopist by training, but she could see that I was quite happy as well as running the kinda day to day experiments within the center Bio photonics center facility to make sure I never looked in on a microscope until was a postdoc. So this, this one was a bit of a transformed that she said I was enjoying, you know, building lasers for microscopy. And she said she should apply for a fellowship. I didn’t know what fellowship was. So she kinda talked me through the process a bit and applied for a bunch and interview to one and somehow managed to convince the panel that I could do something potentially useful. That was nice. And then I realized that I was gonna have to do things, but I didn’t know how to do all of these things. How do you apply for grants? How do you get equipment? How, how so you make the hirer people, how does work? Now this coincide that Alison with, to go work at the University of Manchester. So there’s me and these microscopes and not really much else. So I, I then re returned spiritually to my role at the department of physics and started kinda getting a bit of guidance and support from those folks. Also trying to expand my network through like Microscopical society, Institute physics and so on. So that I can meet other people that knew about this stuff more than I did cause my first applications absolutely bombed. Because I didn’t know what I was doing. And then you learn better about how to an application and write a paper and so on. And so the super continuum work, it was a curious one because I’d never applied to do that. But one of the collaborators had to, some of this Pathonic is the fiber. And I said, can I use it? And he said, ah, sure knock yourself out, so I did some experiments. They took up a week. I wrote the paper and then I disappeared to go to one of these big international meeting in the US to present other work and it was accepted and this was all good. And then I realized that I think I’ve done. So this quite useful here, cause of people seemed interested in it. And I was getting a lot of emails and you know, come and speak to his university or whatever. But the thing that made me realize that actually was more than I had thought was I went to get another, a different focus microscopy meeting. And some academics who shall remain nameless eh, appeared in front of me and said, you Gail McConnell, yer, wait there, then disappeared. And went to get other academics and brought them by. We’re no happy with you. You know, and I’m, you know, I’m junior fellow at this point you’re not happy you, your does. We were working that for three years and I’ve done these experiments in like, you know, week or two, you written the paper and bashed it out. It’s not a great paper, but proof transport. It was enough at the time. And I guess Bio Photonics there. You could get more than probably. but I think there was also a, you know, there was a patent existing that Leica held on the use of micro structure fibers for some continuum generation. And there was a bit krypton factor discussion with them. I I’m still of the opinion that their patent doesn’t necessarily hold.

Peter O’Toole (00:27:42):
So these academics were, they genuinely cross?

Gail McConnell (00:27:45):
No, but I thought they were cross, I thought the were cross, annoyed us because you’ve done this work. But, but as it turned out they were like, no we actually it’s really good because it means we can now do something else based than this, we just read your paper and move on, but you know the sweat was running out of me, O my god what am I going to do, I’ve really annoyed these people, these people are really big hitters, this is the end of me, but no, it was all very cordued

Peter O’Toole (00:28:11):
That’s but you didn’t name them. You kept them.

Gail McConnell (00:28:13):
Of course. Why, why would I name them? They’re they’re nice people. They’re they’re good folk, they still work in the field. Yeah. It’s nice, it’s good.

Peter O’Toole (00:28:25):
You moved actually. I dunno how all this picture is.

Gail McConnell (00:28:31):
Oh, it’s no. I would say that I can tell based on the laser that’s Mira, That’s a Mira is I believe we bought to build a microscope and that would be around 2009 or so yeah, that’s

Peter O’Toole (00:28:48):
You can tell from what the glasses are. I

Gail McConnell (00:28:50):
Can also tell from, because who took the photograph, it was one of students [Inauduble] who was a very keen photographer. So we’ve got like hundreds of photos from around that time of social events and you know, once she’s out and things in the lab.

Peter O’Toole (00:29:04):
So, so, so this one’s obviously seriously at work with the laser.

Gail McConnell (00:29:07):

Peter O’Toole (00:29:08):
This looks like something out of Scooby do

Gail McConnell (00:29:11):
That is not Scooby do. I’m an international woman of mystery. Peter, what I really like about this photo was you dunno, it’s me unless you know me cause it’s really, obviously me, if you know me, who is that, but what your looking at there is the glare from a 5 watt verdi on the wall behind me

Peter O’Toole (00:29:30):
So, so you got some great photos and then obviously you started taking them yourself.

Gail McConnell (00:29:37):
There was a purpose behind that one. And it was to clear that yes, I really was back in the building and this was after the lockdown. So we’d been a complete shutdown, you know, March 2020 and manage get back in at the end of June. And it really was to show people we are now back like this is okay, it’s gonna be fine. So that’s why I’m in the lab wearing a Saltire buff with a Mesa lens behind me

Peter O’Toole (00:30:02):
Know, that’s a lot wider than I recall the early Mesa lenses.

Gail McConnell (00:30:07):
I mean you say mesa lenses in plural there as if they’re hundreds of them. I think four, there’s 3 in Strathclyde and 1 in Plymouth, the prototype is a bit narrow. So, you know, that’s longer, thinner, its 90 centimeters long I think. That one’s kinda shorten and dumpy basically, but yeah that has three correction collars, unlike the prototype, which only has two

Peter O’Toole (00:30:34):
Very nice. I, I, I actually like the face covering as well. Pretty cool. Yes. You had to take your own photos. So you’ve got now lab. I dunno if this is, I just grab a photo. Is this your current team?

Gail McConnell (00:30:50):
No, that

Peter O’Toole (00:30:51):
And it’s old team, isn’t it taking a

Gail McConnell (00:30:52):

Peter O’Toole (00:30:53):
Time ago? Oh yeah.

Gail McConnell (00:30:55):
So yeah, that was taken in October, 2008. And the reason if I was in November 2008 it was very airplane November and the people that were looking at here around me are, are my research group of the time. This is then nexus young life, scientist of the year award, which was a kinda Scottish competition and I’ve sort worked this in 2008. The reason that I remember that it was November is because I ended up on the cover of this nexus magazine and I’m, I’m wearing this photo here and my PhD advisor come up to me and said, I didn’t know here at first, was it Halloween So yeah. So, and you can see he was not pleased so whatever it was done was wearing or something. So that was that

Peter O’Toole (00:31:56):
It’s notable that everyone is quite conservatively dressed. And so this is possibly your latest lab photo, which is far more colorful.

Gail McConnell (00:32:06):
Yeah. I mean, that’s what we normally wear day to day.

Peter O’Toole (00:32:09):
this Ru Paul’s drag race or, or everyone. Yeah.

Gail McConnell (00:32:13):
I think it’s Ru Gail’s drag race. Yeah. So I Ru Paul just above the, in the pink dress, in the centre but yeah, there’s some crackers there. Yeah. That one

Peter O’Toole (00:32:26):
I, and obviously, oh, over there’s Brad. Yes.

Gail McConnell (00:32:32):
I mean, it looks as he’s making a speedy getaway from this, I’m having nothing to do with it, but yeah. I mean, it makes a change from me, sparkly spotty jumpsuit that he wears to Plymouth so, you know, Day wear evening wear,

Peter O’Toole (00:32:47):
Also different to the skits that he does down at MRC as well.

Gail McConnell (00:32:51):
Absolutely. I, yeah. I mean, I’m sure you’ll have seen the, the photo’s uh his own podcast previously of fancy dress. I, those,

Peter O’Toole (00:33:00):
Yeah. I, I think for secret Santa, someone’s got to buy him an Ali G outfit

Gail McConnell (00:33:06):
Don’t because it will encourage that accent. we have an ongoing discussion about what accent are allowed and the confidence of my office. You can use whatever accent and that’s fine, but, you know, affecting the Japanese accent and the Japanese restaurant, quite loadly probably isnae the best idea, but for him, it’s just entirely entertainment and I understand and support.

Peter O’Toole (00:33:28):
So I asked you what you wanted to be when you were 10 you obviously didn’t want to be a, a scientist and

Gail McConnell (00:33:37):
I didn’t know what a scientist was when I was 10

Peter O’Toole (00:33:40):
No, no, I I’ve never chosen to be a scientist. Good grief there, football in the world or baking just, I like bread, but

Gail McConnell (00:33:49):
Why is bake? When you can go to a shop and buy a cake that somebody else has already made you. Life’s too short for all that

Peter O’Toole (00:33:55):
Because shops used to close and weren’t open on Sundays. Why would you

Speaker 3 (00:33:59):
No, no havin that

Peter O’Toole (00:34:04):
Your now, I, I won’t, I won’t quote your age, but what would you be if you could be anything today? Workwise

Gail McConnell (00:34:15):
What workwise?

Peter O’Toole (00:34:17):
What, what job would you, what would be your dream job

Gail McConnell (00:34:19):
Anything Else? I dunno. So I love being outdoors. But the big problem of being outdoors in Scotland, this that about 60% of the year’s absolutely freezing. And I don’t do well in the cold. So I quite fancy some living somewhere where better climate than Scotland, but you can be outdoors year round. I guess if, if I try and combine interest, some of the things I’ve learned since I was taking a show and enjoy kinda marine biology, and so, so maybe somewhere a bit slightly tropical, and marine biology

Peter O’Toole (00:34:58):
Look out Hawaii.

Gail McConnell (00:35:00):
Yeah. I’ve never been to Hawaii, but

Peter O’Toole (00:35:03):
No you’re in

Gail McConnell (00:35:03):
I hear good things

Peter O’Toole (00:35:05):
Why, why have we got a big conference in Hawaii?

Gail McConnell (00:35:08):
So there’s a giant FoM, giant, well known non conference that certainly used to take place in Hawaii and I never made it to, but you know Career fail on my part

Peter O’Toole (00:35:20):
Needs to make a comeback. Okay. So let, let’s fast forward another 20, 30, 40 years. I’m not guessing your age to when you retire.

Gail McConnell (00:35:30):
Oh, no. I mean I’m gonna retire far sooner than that come on. I might have a pension, but the time I get do it,

Peter O’Toole (00:35:39):
So are you gonna cling on or are you going to cheers now? I’m gonna do something else

Gail McConnell (00:35:45):
Right. Okay. Right. Okay. So if I think about it seriously, if, if the grant money’s there and we’re able to keep going, I’ll keep going. Realistically I think without being negative, the funding situation of diet and it’s so challenging that I can see it get, gets to the point where it’s no, it’s no longer enjoyable. It’s no longer tenable. And so I think it would be that that would push me out. But yeah, I, I, I can, I think if I did it young enough that I can go and enjoy my retirement, then I would be okay with that.

Peter O’Toole (00:36:20):
What would you do?

Gail McConnell (00:36:23):
I guess, well, quote, one of my students said recently when I, when I spoke to them and I said, ah, I’m just tired. You know, don’t get the money in and so on. And I said, yeah, if you’re tired, they said, your thighs would like that within about a year, I said, oh, what do you mean? I said, you’d be out on your bike all day a on the up and down mountain, you turn, he said, you just never stop moving. And I said, yeah, you’re probably right. So yeah.

Peter O’Toole (00:36:50):
Cycling a lot. So you wouldn’t just finish fortnight.

Gail McConnell (00:36:54):
Oh, no. Fortnight, I’m no interested in fortnight Fallout. Fallout Yes. Fortnight, it’s a different beat Peter, said your no paying attention. Yeah. So,

Peter O’Toole (00:37:04):
Sorry Gail. It’s just the accent.

Gail McConnell (00:37:07):
Do you mean there’s nothing wrong. You’ve known me for 19 years. You already, we don’t need subtitles, you don’t live that far away

Peter O’Toole (00:37:21):
What’s the next big challenge without, without telling what your grant proposedly. So you don’t get scoops. What do you see in the field as an next big challenge?

Gail McConnell (00:37:31):
Right. Okay. So I guess as far as the mesa X switch, which is one of the main projects concerned, the, I think about just start to scratch this, about how we can study more of the fixed 11. And I see an explosion of techniques at the meso scale matra scale. And probably in the next kinda 10, 20 years, none of these developments have gonna happen quickly, but I think that they will be important

Peter O’Toole (00:38:04):
And moving through. Now So challenge the sort of next big challenge, but think about challenging times, what’s been the most difficult time in your career.

Gail McConnell (00:38:19):
I think I’ve spoken about it previously and it was at the point where I made the step from being a postdoc to being an independent researcher, because I hadn’t a clue what I was doing. I’m not saying I know what I’m doing now , but I know a bit about what I’m doing now, this was just a baptism of fire. I look at other career researchers now. I don’t end with them. I think it’s a lot more difficult to come through the system, you know, the 20 years later than, than I did, it’s a lot more competitive. I would not be competitive at the moment with papers that if equivalent at the time I think that a lot of the kinda fellowships teams do a better job now, and that’s not disparage the fellowship I had, I think they just do a better job now. And institutions generally have a better awareness that early year researchers do need support. Otherwise they won’t succeed and it’s everybody’s interest for them to succeed, including the individual. So,

Peter O’Toole (00:39:21):
And what about the most fun time in your career? What’s been more the, if you, if you go back and relive a year, what would be the most fun period

Gail McConnell (00:39:30):
There there’s so many, I mean, it’s impossible, like chose your favorite child or a favorite pet whatever no, that that’s impossible because first there’s stuff that, you know, you complain about, like, you know, the fact that’s kinda difficult funding or didn’t what was doing, there was still lots of fun stuff. Like the simplicity of buying you first optical table and realizing that if you run your hand along a certain way, it makes that fun noise. And so I, you know, I have a video put somewhere of some of my early teachings, basically drum basing it with this new and there has nothing on it. Yeah. There’s nothing on it for that reason. I dunno how to purchase anything else, but there’s, there’s the kinda offset of this is fun stuff. So yeah, there’s all lot of, lot of really good stuff. I mean, some standout kinda points are, you know, getting the first Mesa Lens up and running, seeing the first results there, the first super continuum results. When you see that this is actually gonna work seeing these intrical channels and biofilms for the first time, we’ve never seen them before, within another existed. Wow. Was the, we need to more about this and then it kinda seeds, you know, lots of activities. So yeah, definitely went to choose just one.

Peter O’Toole (00:40:46):
So going back to the mesa lens again, then obviously you’ve got a very close relationship working relationship with Brad. How did that even start ? There you are a super continuum laser site type side, there you Brad, who’s this God of microscopy, you know, you’ve got two worlds that have come together. How did that initiate? I, I have no idea

Gail McConnell (00:41:08):
It initiated thanks to the what then what at that point was the Plymouth Optical Microscopy course. And I, I slightly strange one. I went to the course in 2004, which was the second time that the course had run. And the person I mentioned previously, Alison Gurney, who was my manager who get in contact with David Ogden, who she worked with previously to say, oh, I see that you’ve run this course. Can I send a couple people on it? And he said, yeah. And we’ll see what can do. So apparently we turned up me and this colleague, mine, the people had absolutely no expectation that we were gonna be there. So they had to find somewhere for us to stay , and all the things you don’t wanna have when you’re organizing a meeting anyway. So I went to this course, absolutely lost. Had a great time then about all these microscopy things, cells, right? I mean, Roger Tsien, I think, was speaking that year about flo proteins. Like, come on, you know, this, this was just an eyeopener for me. It was so immersive 10 days microscopy event and one of the speakers there was, and I sadly I forget the guy’s name, but he gave a seminar. So I thought I don’t. So, you know, I forward to it’s. So the guy presented and, you know, spoke lasers, how you can work with them, and it, it was quite a flashy talk. You know, I remember he spend a, with some lightning in the back, you quite nice, quite nice touch, always for the showman, you know, and at end talks, thank you very much, any questions, you know and Brad put his hand up and said. I recently heard about these white lasers do you, do you know anything about these and speakers said, I’m afraid I don’t. So I said, well, I know about these, cause I tell you what I’m doing I’m them. So after the talk, Brad and I kinda have a wee chat, can you bring one to Cambridge I said, well, I can’t bring one but I can bring the bits to build one and a couple months later I went to visit Brad and Stephie Michael in LMB. And we built this new super continuum to try the few things out. And it kinda all started from there. So it had nothing to do with the Mesa lens, but they kept in touch. And then I joined the courses, a lecturer and then an organizer, and then ended up running the thing. The it’s been, it’s been a overall long period of time, different aspects.

Peter O’Toole (00:43:45):
Interesting. And how much persuasion were you needed to move into sort of the more optics side. Again, it, it is good to have that, that spread of that diversity and, and changing science and not just staying on one tack all the time. So how, it’s almost different set of skills as well. Isn’t it?

Gail McConnell (00:44:04):
So, sorry. Do you mean, should I, how did I, how did I move any optics?

Peter O’Toole (00:44:08):
Yeah, well, no, for the mesa lens, the actual to gone from the super continuum laser. So it’s sort of generating light to now focusing light

Gail McConnell (00:44:17):
Right. I see the question. If I understand correctly, apologies if not is how did you move the building laser to microscope?

Peter O’Toole (00:44:27):
I, I missed that bit. Sorry.

Gail McConnell (00:44:32):
Right. So,

Peter O’Toole (00:44:33):
Okay. How are you persuaded to move from generating lights, right. To the work on actually the lenses itself, right? The actual Opticum lenses, right. Microscope, not for the laser end.

Gail McConnell (00:44:45):
Right. Got it. So we we’re building these lasers for M years M being approximately six. And the more that I learned it, laser, the more that became curious about microscope itself and thinking about what, what are the limits? Cause it came from a possession of what are the limits for laser because people are buying these lasers for companies, these laser are normally developed for applications are not microscopy, but they’re being thrown at microscopes because that’s the thing that, that microscopists need. So spent a long time developing these purpose lasers for microscopy rather than just lasers. Then I realized that the lasers, just one part in microscope and we really should use what we know in optics to think about the other parts of the microscope. So then it was how can we develop new microscopy methods? And as a natural extension of that, it’s what do we need to do to the microscope, to, to support these new applications, which as I learned more and more about the cell biology through became their importance became evident to me. And so the mesa lens, although that was work, that Brad had started from Cambridge, it made, it was a natural evolution of the project that when Brad was approaching retirement, we started chatting about, so what happens here that it became a collaborative project and the project move to Strathclyde to take advantage of what we knew in optics, but also John Nexic could do with software. You know, there’s just number of good reasons to, to move it at that thing.

Peter O’Toole (00:46:21):
There’s still, the mesa lens is here. There’s four. I think you said, how are you gonna make it? Oh, that’s a really stupid question. How are you gonna make it big, it’s already many big, how are you gonna make it more widely accessible?

Gail McConnell (00:46:35):
Right. So that’s, that’s one of the challenges because the mesa is, as you see, but the, the size is not the problem. It is the complexity in the precision, which these elements need to be ground, polished, and mounted. So, you know, each me is, is, is taking months to make, it’s not you know, a standard manufacturing one. I mean, we’re, we’re quite lucky at Strathclyde that we do have the advanced manufacturing center, starting to talk to them about how we could potentially make things better. But realistically, this, this is going to have to be, we improve principle and somebody else with better manufacturing capability we have

Peter O’Toole (00:47:21):
Have a chat after. Okay. Just, just some thoughts anyway. So quick fire questions, PC or Mac

Gail McConnell (00:47:29):
PC tried Mac Didnae Get it No

Peter O’Toole (00:47:34):
Mcdonald’s McDonald’s or burger king.

Gail McConnell (00:47:37):
Neither, that yeah, they both leave me cold

Peter O’Toole (00:47:41):
. I, I knew, you’d say that.

Gail McConnell (00:47:44):
Would you know I’d say that?

Peter O’Toole (00:47:46):
Cause I know you, cause I think we probably had this conversation in the past

Gail McConnell (00:47:50):
Probably, we probably had it sitting outside that terrible place in Genoa. Think you about the fun

Peter O’Toole (00:47:59):
Early bird or night owl

Gail McConnell (00:48:04):
I like getting up here trying to get the exercise out the way. Then I normally fade sometime during the mid afternoon with often an office snap, having known to take an office nap and then I, I normally kinda come back to life in the evening. Again.

Peter O’Toole (00:48:20):
How long do you office nap

Gail McConnell (00:48:23):
Varies? Office naps are very, very rare. But yeah, normal about half an hour.

Peter O’Toole (00:48:31):
Ooh long, no, 10 to 15 minutes tops.

Gail McConnell (00:48:34):
Oh, I mean, that’s just, barely, that’s a blink

Peter O’Toole (00:48:41):
Tight, tidy or messy.

Gail McConnell (00:48:45):
Okay. Right. So it looks quite tidy behind me. That’s just because ever since in these cupboards I’m reasonably tidy or at least I have a have a threshold that’s reasonably low. Normally at least once, once, and I have research group chat it’s okay. The place is getting tad easy to cheat tidy it. I find it difficult to work if there’s too much around me just to distract me, cause I will look at something else and then entertain that or easily distracted. That’s why I just really like me.

Peter O’Toole (00:49:17):
So what was that again? Sorry. I’m I was just looking out the window. come on. This

Gail McConnell (00:49:26):
Is taking all of my attention

Peter O’Toole (00:49:30):
Tea, your coffee.

Gail McConnell (00:49:31):
Oh, right. Okay. This is a tricky one because I like both. And I, I, I DEC decaffeinated about two years ago.

Peter O’Toole (00:49:42):
How were headaches?

Gail McConnell (00:49:43):

Peter O’Toole (00:49:44):
How were the headaches when you went decaf?

Gail McConnell (00:49:46):
Well, it was cause of headaches that I Decaffeinated anyway, turned out it was nothing to do with it. There’s nothing serious, but yeah, basically just other stuff going on. But it was easier than a thought. It was a lot easier than a thought. And then we returning to some kinda semblance of normal now, which means that, you know, you go and get coffee somewhere. And so, you know, one coffee is kinda floored me, but yeah. And I’m happy with tea or coffee as long as it doesn’t have milk in it I’m absolutely fine.

Peter O’Toole (00:50:15):
Okay. Wine or Beer

Gail McConnell (00:50:19):
Okay. Eh, wine with a meal, beer, in my head beer is, is gonna be great because when I’m thinking about a beer it’s after a long day of being in the Hills and psychologically I’m gonna really look forward to this, but normally with the time I go home or I’m near the beer , yeah, I’ve changed my mind and i don’t really want it so go with wine.

Peter O’Toole (00:50:42):
So there go talk about being in Hills,

Gail McConnell (00:50:46):
Right? So this is somewhere in Glenco and I, one of my students was given a, a practice, sorry, a presentation on their work. And I was on annual leave that day. I really wanted to see the student give the presentation. So there is me on the decent , from, I believe it’s buckeye mor where I managed to get fairly decent wifi and I’m sitting so that can watch, just do the presentation before, so yeah,

Peter O’Toole (00:51:13):
But no wifi here.

Gail McConnell (00:51:14):
Oh no, no, no, no. I mean, that’s a rare event. What you see there because I don’t normally do snow I freeze too easily and I stop functioning, so yeah. But yeah, I’m just quite happy to be outside and it’s not snowing. It has been snowing. So future pleasant, tense are quite important.

Peter O’Toole (00:51:34):
So it’s not just cycling you like hiking and cycling. Any other exercise?

Gail McConnell (00:51:39):
No, I’d say that’s probably about that’s enough at my age is to keep, remind me about my age.

Peter O’Toole (00:51:45):
I, I don’t think we’re so difference in age Gail

Gail McConnell (00:51:49):
Who knows?

Peter O’Toole (00:51:52):
Chocolate or cheese?

Gail McConnell (00:51:58):
Yeah, probably cheese. I’m not, I’m not big chocolate fan wee bit every now and again, okay. Cheese I’m really fussy. I, because in my, again, it’s cheese is fine straight out the fridge see that that cheese took line of me. But, and I know that that’s, that’s gonna annoy quite a lot of people, but feel should be kinda room temper all the rest of it that gives me the fear. It’s the same with a glass milk. If I see a glass of milk sitting out, if it’s just been poured straight the fridge, I, I have had to leave the room when people are having a nice glass of milk that they’re really enjoying, but it just turns my stomach.

Peter O’Toole (00:52:38):
Well, if it’s not cold or just, it’s

Gail McConnell (00:52:40):
Not cold.

Peter O’Toole (00:52:41):
Yeah. Yeah.

Gail McConnell (00:52:42):
Cause then in my head, the process I’m getting through is that’s getting warm. It’s gonna to, it’s gonna smell or this is gonna be terrible. Even though I realize, you know, scientifically that this is gonna take hours, it’s not gonna take minutes, but yeah, I I’ll the

Peter O’Toole (00:52:57):
See, that’s why I never have cereal at hotels. Cause I can never trust the milk you might put on it.

Gail McConnell (00:53:03):
Yeah. I mean, milk is, I’m not saying it’s the work of Satan all his little friends, but it’s not great. I mean, you’ve got to wonder about the person that first discovered milk and what they doing to extract the milk from the cow, you know,

Peter O’Toole (00:53:19):
Quickly moving on TV or book.

Gail McConnell (00:53:26):
I have a very, very short attention span. And so I can only really watch things that that kinda 22 minutes long, without getting totally board or if it’s, if it’s got subtitled I’m quite good with subtitles because then I’m doing two things at once and I’m reading as well as watching and paying attention and, and it holds my attention better. But yeah a book will engage me much more readily than, than any TV or film.

Peter O’Toole (00:53:55):
So what type of books do you read?

Gail McConnell (00:53:57):
Oh, I’ll read anything. I’ll read absolutely anything in the last week. I think I finished Miriam Margolyes biography. This Much is True. I read something else and now I’m reading something else again. oh, There was something and it was, it was a really nice day I read it in an afternoon I can’t remember what it was. I need to check good read, you know,

Peter O’Toole (00:54:26):
I can’t wait for you to come back and say, I remember that it’s hard to boost your memory in 20 minutes.

Gail McConnell (00:54:32):
No, I definitely would’nae be reading that, but yeah. I mean, one of my students asked me recently, my desert Island book would be immediately said Moby Dick, it’s quite a nice long book and you know, I quite late short chapters, short chapters are good. But I think my favorite non-fiction book is animals without back bones from Bush.

Peter O’Toole (00:54:54):
OK. And thinking of desert island, then what would your, I

Gail McConnell (00:54:58):
Remember from a book it’s called phosphate box it’s by Fiona Erskine, and it’s a fiction book, a she’s a chemical engineer who, I mean, she is, the author is chemical engineer and she writes about a chemical engineering experience, but it’s a fiction piece and it’s a bit funding a body the in a factory and the objects that surround the death, this and how the, the police can therefore identify who, so it does science very technical so it’s kinda fiction with, you know, a what the element, for example, and then there’s another chapter. So yeah, we’re recommend. It’s also by a Scottish author So I have to re yeah,

Peter O’Toole (00:55:45):
A good plug.

Gail McConnell (00:55:47):

Peter O’Toole (00:55:48):
Definitely thinking of desert island. If you could take one luxury item with you, you, what would you take? What’s your favorite singular non-essential item?

Gail McConnell (00:55:59):
Well, see, I mean, if we’re playing proper desert island, dust rules I mean I probably go with toothbrush.

Peter O’Toole (00:56:09):
Okay. I used to like that with Chris Evans. Don’t forget your toothbrush.

Gail McConnell (00:56:14):
Yeah. I think it started off quite well, but then it just became too extravagant and ridiculous.,

Peter O’Toole (00:56:24):
And then got taken off air for controversial reasons. If I recall correctly, I think Sean Rider might have had something to do with that.

Gail McConnell (00:56:31):
Oh, was that not? T G I F

Peter O’Toole (00:56:34):
Was that T G I F mm-hmm oh,

Gail McConnell (00:56:39):
Cause that was on, they had to move the broadcasting

Peter O’Toole (00:56:44):
10 seconds cause oh no theme tunes getting in my head. Anyway. What’s your favorite film?

Gail McConnell (00:56:53):
Right. So we already established I’m no really big on films. If I’m asked to choose , Well, yeah, it’s too long. But I’m Amélie, it’s, it’s beautifully short. Yeah. It’s just, it’s all the film.

Peter O’Toole (00:57:07):
So you’re going for the, how, how well directed and yeah,

Gail McConnell (00:57:12):
Exactly. Yeah. And I, I’m not on big in romance, people functioning. It’s just, it’s just a beautiful film.

Peter O’Toole (00:57:22):
I, I, you, you must have seen the star wars and a star Trek

Peter O’Toole (00:57:26):
I’ve seen them. Yeah.

Peter O’Toole (00:57:28):
So you wouldn’t choose either go, would you a star wars person or a star Trek person if you had to choose one or the other, which

Gail McConnell (00:57:37):
Right. If it’s just either or then I would just said original star wars. Later star Trek.

Peter O’Toole (00:57:46):
Okay. What’s your pet hate?

Gail McConnell (00:57:55):
There’s just so many just really fussy. I guess that that’s a struggle

Peter O’Toole (00:58:09):

Gail McConnell (00:58:11):
No, cause that’s me. That’s definitely me and all. No, no. I think pet hate, let me is probably unnecessary noise. no explain, say, say if you’re sitting next to somebody that tapping or humming you unnecessary. I unnecessary noise. Unnecessary noise drives me insane. Tapping just

Peter O’Toole (00:58:41):
It’s like tapping whistling.

Gail McConnell (00:58:43):
I oh, that just, just a bit of, ratchet’s not needed. Why are you making this noise? This is not required

Peter O’Toole (00:58:51):
just cannot wait for the next conference. I’m gonna sit two rows behind you to make sure I’m not in arms length of you. And I might just humming in the background.

Gail McConnell (00:59:00):
I just like don’t do like, like a song or, I mean, it should just kinda,

Peter O’Toole (00:59:07):
Yeah, I I’ll do it. Can’t even make out what it is. How’s that to make it really annoying.

Gail McConnell (00:59:11):
That’s fine. Because now that you’ve told me you’re gonna do this, I’m gonna know that it’s you and I’m gonna sit one of my students next you so that they can punch in the leg

Peter O’Toole (00:59:22):
Okay. I’ll set someone else up to do it for me. I’ll still get here. I know I’ll still

Gail McConnell (00:59:30):
I’m no into violence

Peter O’Toole (00:59:34):
What, what do you most love? What are your favorite things?

Gail McConnell (00:59:37):
What? My favorite things, partner. My family. Pets. Yeah.

Peter O’Toole (00:59:44):
What pet have you got?

Gail McConnell (00:59:46):

Peter O’Toole (00:59:46):
What Pets do you have?

Gail McConnell (00:59:48):
I’ve got two and a bit cats. And it’s not a fraction of a cat. It’s not a percentage of cat, but with two cats and I cat visitor,

Peter O’Toole (00:59:56):

Gail McConnell (00:59:58):
It’s a hashtag not my cat, but you know it’s kinda moved in. We know where it lives and we know where it’s owner is in the owners, hopefully unlikely to watch this. You’re welcome to your cat back if you’re watching is. But the cat we’ve tried driving the cat back, you know, leaving it at the front, the one, the cat’s back 15 minutes later. So yeah,

Peter O’Toole (01:00:18):
You sent me some more pictures and I quite like this one. So this was awesome. ELMI,

Gail McConnell (01:00:23):
This, this, this is

Peter O’Toole (01:00:25):
MMC. This is MMC

Gail McConnell (01:00:27):
2017. Now what I like about this photo it’s not me. It’s the many faces of Alex Sossick. Now, if you look at Alex Sossick in each one of these, it has exactly the same impression its not moved, but he’s wearing a different wig

Peter O’Toole (01:00:43):
But Tim’s changing. Tim’s a guy next to him. Tim

Gail McConnell (01:00:46):
Tim Moved. Ali has moved. I’ve moved. It’s the face of Alex Sossick It’s like we’ve wheeled him in like a statue

Peter O’Toole (01:01:04):
So you just do you actually, did you stay there? You just take a wig off and put another wig on him. And so this is those, listen, this is a photo booth.

Gail McConnell (01:01:11):
It’s a weekend at Bernie’s with Alex Sossick

Peter O’Toole (01:01:16):
Love it. I, I love your Posey pouches pipe as well on that one. Oh

Gail McConnell (01:01:20):
Right. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I should explain that. The cleavage is entirely not real.

Peter O’Toole (01:01:25):
I do not only noticed he just looked at who was in it. I ain’t even gone that far down.

Gail McConnell (01:01:32):
Its tremendously awful. it’s Alex. I just, I you,

Peter O’Toole (01:01:40):
So thinking of being loud, This is you on your soup box I presume in the middle of somewhere.

Gail McConnell (01:01:49):
Right? So so I’m still thinking about many faces Alex Sossick. So I’m at a loss of to win. This was but it’s roughly the 2015, 2014 thereabouts. Anyway, I think this was the first, soup box science event they’ve been held in basket and I was approached by a colleague to say, would you be interested in doing this, I said yeah course, I’ll give it a go. So I am in this hole, I’m holding the thing I’m holding is a cardboard version of the mesa lens difficult to see, but that’s what I’m doing and I was there to talk about Imaging and the advantage of microscopy and all, all the things. So yeah, heres me, my white lab coat and I’m outside Kelvin Grove museum in Glasgow. So the west end, it’s a Sunday and it’s 11:00 AM now Glasgow. Isn’t exactly known being busy Sunday morning, 11:00 AM. And it’s I wanna say this must have been about June time. So the weather that’s OK. That’s why I’m gonna wear like, you know, M hat gloves, otherwise I would be freezing. And there’s a few people about, and it’s its okay. See the thing I mentioned about unnecessary noise. Now we’ve gonna come back to that now, because while I’m talking to this small assembled group about fluorescence in the distance, I hear there’s a banging noise and it’s a thump and it’s a very distinctive thumping and then there’s whistling and I know what’s coming next. So what is coming down the street is an orange walk. So I’m guessing I maybe need the orange order is an international Protestant fraternal society or older. And it has its basis in Northern Ireland. And it’s primarily associated with Ulster Protestants, particularly those of Ulster Scots heritage, and they have marches. And this includes a yearly match that’s close to the during July. Sorry. and they have a kinda matching seasons where, where the, the band process in the street with pipes and drums and flutes and everybody in the final except it’s really, really loud. So I’m talking to this, this tiny group of people about, you know, the, the, the merits of science and imaging and fluorescence. And I’m competing with orange walk who are a hundred meters away. And at this point I think like I’ve what, I’m just gonna stop talking because I cannot compete with this ratchet that’s proceeding down the street. It was only a little one. So that meant it only to give it 10 minutes to pass but you only on that soapbox for an hour. So yeah, it, it was, it was a, an interesting challenge, but it really did come down and then to almost science verses religion. And I think because I was still in the zone science one,

Peter O’Toole (01:04:48):
I love the analogy at the end. We are up to, to the hour mark, and you sent me some more photos and I have to show at least one of these, which is this one must have been what three?

Gail McConnell (01:05:00):
Yeah, that’s me, me. I’m I don’t think of aged that badly. You can still tell it’s me. I think, yeah. I, I might say my front door, so yeah, that’s me.

Peter O’Toole (01:05:12):
And, and then, and then one other, which is what this picture makes it look like you’re running for parliament.

Gail McConnell (01:05:18):
Yeah. I mean, it looks like the photo on the back of a book jacket where you, you kinda, I, I at this subject, but yeah, one of the students turned me into a meme, and I think it’s something like a, an objective lens with NA five times higher than a conventional lens. And at the bottom says, tell me more. And that’s exactly what the face looks like. Now that photo was taken by a technician. If it was excellent photographer and semi professional. And it’s been about an hour of trying to get a photo of me for a thing and nothing, really what? And I sat down and I looked at the window, he said, don’t so I did not move. And that’s the show that he took

Peter O’Toole (01:06:02):
. It is a very good picture. And finally, how would you compare yourself today to the you 20 years ago?

Gail McConnell (01:06:16):
20 years ago. Right. So I’m trying to think each I I’m more settled and more tired now. Obviously not then yeah, I’m happier.

Peter O’Toole (01:06:29):
Still got the same energy.

Gail McConnell (01:06:33):
I’d say it’s used differently, but yeah. Yeah. I don’t feel I’ve really slowed down that much. Ask me in another 20 years, you know? That’s if I’m still alive

Peter O’Toole (01:06:45):
Yeah. You still have the energy that’s for sure.

Gail McConnell (01:06:49):
Yeah, no, I’m totally wasted way yet. Peter, don’t rule me out.

Peter O’Toole (01:06:55):
I’m not ruling you out, I just, no, no, but on that, I’m gonna stop before I just dig a big hole for myself, Gail thank you very much. Thank you to everyone who’s been listening to this episode of The Microscopist. Please do subscribe to whichever channel and go back and have a look at some of the previous ones you’ve heard about Brad, for example, that’s one of the previous guests, Gail entertaining as always. Thank you.

Gail McConnell (01:07:18):
Thank you.

Peter O’Toole (01:07:19):
I, I did miss a proper drink with that one though, but thank you

Gail McConnell (01:07:22):
More. That’ll do

Speaker 1 (01:07:25):
Thank you for listening to The Microscopists, a Bitesizebio podcast sponsored by Zeiss microscopy to view all audio and video recordings from this series, please visit


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