About Me

Thanks for visiting! My name is Ian M. Mackay, a working Scientist and an adjunct Associate Professor (University of Queensland). I have a PhD in virology, also from UQ. This blog is not affiliated with any Organisation and contains cited facts and some personal opinions. Enough about me – get over to here for the actual blog, Virology Down Under (VDU)!

Still reading? Okay then.

VDU or (VirolDU’)s latest logo. Updated when the blog moved from Blogspot to WordPress.

From 1992 to 2015 I discovered, characterised, detected, manipulated, grew, visualised and generally worked with viruses as a scientist at the Queensland paediatric infectious diseases (Qpid) laboratory (formerly the Clinical Virology Research Unit) housed at the Sir Albert Sakzewski Virus Research Centre (SASVRC).

At one point Qpid was affiliated with the Queensland Children’s Medical Research Institute but the QCMRI didn’t survive. Neither did SASVRC really, but it saw a lot of research and researchers in its time.

From Uni to research to meaning

I was initially a research assistant, completed an MSc(Qual) and then a PhD in virology. This talked about the development and application of molecular diagnostics, which in turn found and characterised human metapneumovirus (hMPV) in Australia. It also included some lentivector-mediated gene therapy.

The initial project fell apart, as these things sometimes do, which required teeing up a new supervisor. I made the best of a bad situation and I was lucky. I’ve been lucky my whole life; lucky to be white, to be born where I was, to live where I have, lucky to have such a smart and awesome partner (also virologist and co-author and co-thinker on the successful grants), lucky to have a house, a car, a job, my health and lucky to have fantastic children.

I sought and received some research projects and grants (my first came right after my PhD was conveyed and they didn’t stop until about 2012.

In that time my small lab team and I were often the 2nd to discover a few viruses that had just been reported in the literature somewhere else, finding hMPV, HCoV-NL63, HBoV and HCoV-HKU1 in Australia. One of the papers was received and accepted within a week! Heady times. One of my PhD students characterised a virus, HRV-QPM, representing a weird clade or rhinoviruses we’d been seeing since 2003, into the third rhinovirus species, HRV-C. That was really goosebumps stuff.

I’ve worked with aerosolised viruses, detected polyomaviruses, isolated respiratory viruses, screened thousands of samples for viruses, written or co-written over 80 papers on viruses and managed a bunch of students while working on viruses.

I’ve worked with and around some fantastic scientists who have taught me much. Also some other people I’ve …shared lab space with… and learned other things from.😒

Then I didn’t get grants.

Then I left research in 2015 for a range of reasons including wanting to actually use my science for good and to see something more real for my efforts, not enjoying my laboratory working environment and not being able to get funding.

My post research life is not one I talk about much publicly because that would often be unethical. I am still a working virologist though. Basically I design, optimise and validate molecular tests for new and existing viruses of public health significance. I have a few other things happening as well and sometimes they end up as papers, other writings or just the knowledge that I helped something useful get done.

None of this would be possible – or worthwhile – without my brilliant partner in life, Kat

And it has all occurred in Brisbane, South-East Queensland, Australia despite being born in New Zealand.

The tech

VDU was originally created on a 486DX2/66 at home – then on a Gateway Pentium II (128Mb RAM and 6.4Gb HDD) on its 17″ monitor, then my Dell Pentium III 1000MHz (128Mb RAM, 10Gb HDD) notebook, an Acer Pentium 4 3GHz (1Gb RAM, 120Gb HDD), then a Dell XPS8300 (16Gb RAM, corei7-2600 [email protected]) or XPSL321X ultrabook (4Gb RAM, core i7-2637M [email protected]) and now on a Dell Corei7-7820 3.6GHz Alienware Area-51 R4 with 32GB RAM. The blog was only a few pages, to begin with, but grew in an ad hoc fashion. I liked to change my mind on what style looked good but it’s been settled for about three years now.

The site was designed using Coffee Cup with a little stint using Dreamweaver, some HTML and CSS experiences thrown in there as well. VDU was hosted on the University of Queensland student servers back in the day, then supported on the staff servers by SASVRC, but eventually, I closed the website down.

A new hobby at 40 something

And then I started a blog (the two overlapped for a time) in March 2013. The first blog over on Blogspot, and the use of social media, began on an Easter school holiday at the suggestion of my partner, Dr Katherine Arden.

It started with little clippings of things, focussing mostly on influenza H7N9 and MERS-CoV. Prior to all this, I was very anti anything-to-do-with-social-media. Now I use Twitter and this newer blog to try and break down science for a bigger public audience, grump a bit, highlight lies and write about topical virus-related things. I’m currently setting up Mastodon as well depending on what happens in 2022.

I’m also trying to use what I learn to be a better example of an old white male (OWM) human being. I’m late to that. But I’m trying.

What I am not

I’m not a teacher, although all researchers do teach to some extent.

I’m not a graphic designer, although I like to play and currently use Inkscape for the graphics and Excel for the graphs. I do love a good graph.

I’m no computer expert, faaaarrrrrr from it but I am my household’s network manager.

I’m certainly not a literary scholar or writer, hence the frequent typos and simplistic text and language. But I have found that I enjoy writing – especially when it isn’t a grant application.

I have absolutely no formal education in communication (Comms), risk management, sociology or epidemiology. I am not and will likely never be a full Professor nor am I one of the nation’s leading researchers or one of Australia’s leading virologists. Possibly just Australia’s mouthiest virologist.

I’d like to be good at this

All that said, I have a desire to try and get across a simpler version of the often dense, usually dry, sometimes deliberately confusing information that various people have for years tried to place in my head, or that I have simply picked up in the course of my research and scientific life.

During my working life, science outreach and communication has become a thing. It’s a long way from being part of the considered workload for many scientists but it should be and we need to do better to convey the need for it among our scientist peers.

There is no external funding of VDU, no payment for the personal time used to write, research or maintain the site, communicate on twitter, speak to eth media nor anything but personal time and funds used to host the site, pay for the computers, screens, storage, books, software subscriptions, home office maintenance or the electricity used. I consider this my contribution to amateur science communication.

Imperfect though that contribution may be. Imposter syndrome is strong in this house. As is a desire to learn how to be a better human being. That will be a work in progress until I’m dust.

Most of the information I publish has references to a source. And it is all written so that I can understand it. So really. this is not a selfless act.

I don’t intend this site to be a one-stop-shop for homework or assignments but I do hope it can convey some of my knowledge about some viruses and virus-related events in a way that (a) stand the test of at least some time, (b) is in a form that at least some of you can learn from and (c), doesn’t have too many lists. I also hope that I absolutely never speak in absolutes because biology doesn’t roll that way. Failing that, I know I learn new things each time I research each and every blog post on VDU. That point, along with having a resource of information in the form of posts that I can point others to, and the feedback I get from those who learn something and enjoy the content, is enough for me for now.

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