An interview with Dr Benjamin Johns

November 2019
Dr Benjamin Johns is a Trainee Clinical Scientist with a background in biomedical sciences and microbiology. After completing his PhD at Cardiff Metropolitan University, Johns transitioned into a career outside of academia. He has been an active member of the Society since starting his PhD, helping promote the Society across Wales.

You are currently a Trainee Clinical Scientist at the University Hospital of Wales. Can you tell us about your current role and training programme?

I am currently a Trainee Clinical Scientist (Infection Science) at Public Health Wales, based at the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff under the mentorship of Dr Catherine Moore (Consultant Clinical Scientist). As a Trainee on the Scientist Training Program (STP), I am currently on rotation through clinical and scientific placements with a range of laboratory specialisms within microbiology, including bacteriology, virology, mycology, and specialist/reference laboratories such as the anaerobe reference unit, antimicrobial chemotherapy unit, Wales Centre for Mycobacteria, Cryptosporidium Reference Unit, Toxoplasma Reference Unit and Food, Water & Environment unit. As I develop as a (Trainee) Clinical Scientist, my role will be to identify areas for service improvement and participate in/lead research activities to deliver those improvements.

What would your advice be to anyone thinking about a career outside of academia?

As I had studied my BSc/MSc/PhD back-to-back, I felt that I would develop more as a scientist by leaving academia and applying some of my skills and knowledge in a healthcare setting to benefit patients. Having studied Biomedical Science for my BSc and MSc, it has always been my intention to enter diagnostic laboratory practice. It is a challenging transition due to the differences in how the two operate, but I personally find it highly rewarding that a laboratory test will end in a patient receiving the best possible care. Also, with such stringent quality assurance protocols in diagnostic laboratories, the tests work nearly all the time (every PhD student’s/post doc’s dream, right?).

You recently completed your PhD at Cardiff Metropolitan University, tell us a little about your research.

I undertook my PhD at Cardiff Metropolitan University under the supervision of Dr Sarah Maddocks (Cardiff Metropolitan University), Dr Kevin Purdy (Warwick University) and Dr Nicholas Tucker (Strathclyde University). My project was investigating small colony variants (SCVs) of Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a descendant of one SCV (a ‘revertant’) and their shared progenitor isolate (wild-type). I carried out research into their phenotype and genotype – looking for potential commonalities and differences in either which would aid their identification in a busy diagnostic laboratory.

Where did your interest in microbiology come from?

I’d love to say that microbiology has always been my passion, but it was not until the end of my BSc that my interest in microbiology truly piqued. As an undergraduate, I thought that microbiology was the part of biomedical science that had been left behind – whilst genomics and cancer biology were employing cutting-edge techniques, microbiology was still using those found in 19th century textbooks! I was allocated a microbiology project with Professor Rose Cooper for my undergraduate dissertation project, investigating the antimicrobial activities of a range of Manuka honeys against isolates found in chronically infected severe burns. From that point, my passion for microbiology developed and I chose to specialise in Medical Microbiology for my Master’s course. Now, I can see that fantastic work carried out by microbiologists in both academia and diagnostics – and the opportunities to apply new technologies to continue advancing the field.  

Why did you join the Microbiology Society?

I joined the Microbiology Society (well, I joined SGM... but we’re not allowed to say that...) to be part of a wider community of microbiologists. The Microbiology Society supported me to attend my first conference, present my first poster and oral presentation, deliver my first outreach project, participate in my first microbiology-related working group and will soon be supporting me to co-chair my first session at a national conference. I have previously been in a number of societies, but I have found the Microbiology Society to be the most engaged with its members and offering development opportunities and support – particularly for early career scientists.

You were a Society Champion before; how was your experience?

I have previously been a Society Champion – I signed up as a PhD student during the first recruitment round to ensure that Wales had representation and local engagement. I have since stepped down from the role due to the intensity of the STP programme (and now that we have a number of other Welsh representatives!), but I continue to be an advocate for the Microbiology Society and engage with members locally to encourage participation in the Societies activities.

How do you keep up to date with the latest microbiology news?

Microbiology Today, the Society's quarterly membership magazine, of course – how else!?