James Wood is a veterinary epidemiologist working at Cambridge university and is the Alborada Professor of Equine and Farm Animal Science. His research interests are largely focused on zoonotic viral diseases, including mammalian influenza and potentially emergent viruses from bats, but he retains interests in a variety of other diseases, such as bovine tuberculosis, African horse sickness and bluetongue.
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Tell us a bit about how the Cambridge Infectious Diseases Consortium came about.
After foot-and-mouth disease in 2001, there was a national realisation that we needed to bring more vets into infectious disease research. On the basis of collaborations that I had established with the zoology department at Cambridge and its links with the vet school, the successful application from Cambridge to Defra and the Higher Education Funding Council for England for Veterinary Training and Research Initiative funds included me; what started as a five-year position has turned into a permanent one.
How did you get to where you are today?
Having spent some time after graduation first running a commercial lamb production trial (where I worked as a shepherd with a weighing machine and computer) and in mixed practice, I was pointed in the direction of epidemiology by Jet Jones, who had known me at the Royal Veterinary College. I had developed an interest in research during an intercalated BSc in physiology at University College London. I spent the first of my 15 years at the Animal Health Trust (I'd only intended to go there for three years to get training in epidemiology) doing a Masters in epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, which was a fantastic experience and course. The AHT's one-man band of epidemiologists had grown into a 10-strong mixed team by the time I left.
How do you spend a typical day?
After a 25-minute train journey and a 15-minute ride on my folding bike across Cambridge after a hurried breakfast at home (usually spent with my daughters Laura and Sophie, but not my wife Ros), I get to work at around 8 am and try to get what I need to do done before the day starts. I sometimes seem to spend nearly all my time when at work in Cambridge in a series of meetings, supervisions and, occasionally, teaching. I seem to do most of my own work at home or when travelling. I try to get home for 6 pm so that I see the children before they go to bed. My last year has been frantically busy, running a consortium of researchers (along with Ian Brown from the Veterinary Laboratories Agency and many other colleagues and institutions around the UK) who are working together to address the animal and zoonotic aspects of the swine flu pandemic.
What do you like about your job?
I get huge pleasure from working with so many extremely able people in Cambridge and around the many different collaborating institutions that I work with. I am very lucky to travel to the fascinating places that I do and meet great people in them.
What do you not like?
I spend too long away from home and miss a lot of important personal and professional things as a result.
What advice would you give to someone considering a similar career?
Find out what is really involved, and if you still want to do it, then do.
What's the best piece of advice you were ever given?
On arriving in Newmarket, I was told not to bet what I could not afford to lose.
What was your proudest moment?
I've got some of the greatest pleasure from seeing people who have worked with me, most of whom are much more able than me, doing well in their work and careers.
… and your most embarrassing?
I think I might take the Fifth Amendment here!
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