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An Interview with Robbie McDonald

Describe your work in a Twitter post (140 characters):RobbieMcDonald

“Finding practical solutions for managing complex problems caused by wildlife.”

How did you get to where you are now?

“A very convoluted path between university life and NGOs. I worked for the Game Conservancy Trust for a while, and I worked for government as well – my last job was with DEFRA. I worked as the Head of Wildlife Science at the Food and Environment Research Agency. Before that, I worked at Quercus, a cooperative centre between Queen’s University and the Department of Environment in Northern Ireland, and I’ve worked abroad: so lots of different working environments and not a conventional academic route. A lot of the basics of the work are similar though – doing interesting research and getting money has been a feature of all of those posts.”

What is your proudest work-related moment to date?

“I’m proud of getting a licence for the badger vaccine. We did the field trials that lead to the authorities granting a licence for the use of BCG in badgers. It was a big project with people working in the field and in a variety of different agencies. It went very well and quickly; we obtained the licence for use in the season following our field trials.”

What’s the worst job you have ever had?

“The worst job I’ve had was probably clearing rhododendron from wet fields in Argyll in summer – totally covered in midges. That was pretty diabolical. That was during one of the summers as an undergraduate. Professionally, the worst part of any job was probably the start to the working day at the Game Conservancy Trust; We used dogs to find grouse so the day started with clearing the kennels and literally shovelling dog poo.”

If you had left academia in a parallel universe, what job would you be doing instead?

“I’ve probably already done it – I only came back into academia a couple of years ago.”

Apart from Cardiff (or Wales), where is the best place you have ever travelled for work?

“Western China – that was good. I went to the Qinghai Plateau to set up a pilot project looking at the management and ecosystem roles of burrowing mammals like pikas and zokors.”

What’s your favourite parasite?

Skrjabingylus nasicola. It infects mustelids in particular; you get high prevalence in stoats and weasels. It’s a nematode that infects the sinuses and it’s pretty gruesome.”

If you had to be infected with a parasite what would you pick?

“Guinea worm would be interesting. I had a friend who had guinea worm – he did the whole wrapping it round a matchstick thing… it would be a great conversation piece!”

What’s your favourite type of cheese?

“I do like some good Manchego with a bit of quince paste.”

If your office/lab caught on fire, what would be the thing that you saved?

“Nothing. Let it burn! Start afresh.”

If you would like to learn more about Robbie’s work, please visit his website here.

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