Keith Bradnam. Photo provided by Keith Bradnam
Keith Bradnam. Photo provided by Keith Bradnam

Keith spent his research career mostly using Unix and Perl to study and organise a wide variety of genomic data. He is proud to have been the first person to formally describe that first introns in a gene tend to be longer than downstream introns. After a twenty year career as a scientist he stepped sideways into a science communication career.

For the last four years he has been the Digital Strategy Manager at The Institute of Cancer Research in London, helping disseminate their cancer research news via websites, newsletters, and social media posts…and making lots of spreadsheets in the process. https://www.keithbradnam.com

1 Are you an early bird or night owl?

Early Bird

2 Are you pro- or anti-pun?

Pro-pun

3 Do you have any pets?

No

4 Do you have any science-themed home decor?

No

5 Do you prefer cooking or baking?

Cooking

6 Do you prefer sweet or savory?

Sweet

7 Do you speak any other languages?

I learnt French and some German at school and I also studied Italian for a year but the language that I am most fluent in is probably Perl (a dying programming language).

8 If you could switch professions, what would you do?

I’ve already changed profession once from scientist to science communicator, and I guess if I had to change again I would probably try my hand at something related to marketing. I think I would be quite good at writing advertising slogans and jingles. It should also be said that the only job I think I’ve ever *really* wanted is to present the BBC’s election night graphical analysis of results (made famous by Peter Snow and now Jeremy Vine).

9 If you could switch science fields, what field would you want to work in?

As a scientist I employed bioinformatics techniques to mine genomic data for many different model organisms. However, I originally studied ecology at university. I would love to go back to throwing some quadrats around on windy hillsides (do quadrats still exist or has this all gone digital?).

10 If you got a plane ticket right now, where would it go?

Does Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo count as a plane? If so then my answer would be ‘100,000 km upwards’.

11 If you had one superpower, what would it be?

Telepathy (I knew you were going to ask me that).

12 Is there anything you strongly recommend we watch and/or read and/or listen to?

‘This is Spinal Tap’ is one of my all-time favourite films and everyone should watch that to appreciate improvised comic acting at its finest. As for reading, I think ‘UNIX and Perl to the Rescue! : A Field Guide for the Life Sciences (And Other Data-Rich Pursuits)’ is a really good book to unwind with after a long day. And as for something to listen to, then it can only be ‘Who’s Next’ by The Who. It was the second best thing to happen in 1971!

13 It’s your day off. What do you want to do?

Take a long walk to explore new places and discover interesting architecture.

14 What are three things you can’t live without?

Family, iPhone, and spreadsheets (but not always in that order).

15 What beverage gives you life?

A mug of tea — milk added first to teabag — served in my beloved dark green mug purchased in 1991 from an Asda in Pudsey. It’s the oldest possession I own!

16 What book did you read in school that positively shaped you?

There are probably many books that made a lasting impression on me, but I struggle to think of one that *positively* shaped me. One of the books that I spent the most time with in my formative years was probably a world atlas…I’ve always loved poring over maps.

17 What did you want to be when you grew up?

I’ll let you know when I grow up! When I was a boy I really wanted to be a Jedi Knight.

18 What drives you and keeps you going?

I make lots of lists and track lots of data in spreadsheets. Self quantification scratches an itch that I have and it might sound strange, but something that keeps me going is the urge to turn values in my tracking spreadsheets green. This indicates that I have lost weight, listened to more music, run faster park runs, read more articles in my RSS client etc.

19 What got you excited in science?

The realisation that you can use statistical approaches to describe and model the natural world. This is what attracted me to study Ecology at university.

20 What excites you about science now?

The potential of genomics. I want to be able to see a doctor with an infection and leave the appointment knowing the precise species of virus/bacteria/fungi that was responsible.

21 What is a guilty pleasure of yours?

Religiously listening to The Archers every day (Saturday’s excepted, obviously).

22 What is a secret talent of yours?

I can identify a lot of songs purely by listening to faint muffled baselines that emanate through walls from neighboring houses.

23 What is your favorite game?

Wits and Wagers is a fantastic board game to play with a group of people.

24 What is the last book you read?

I finished The Handmaid’s Tale a week ago (and I’m currently racing through the sequel).

25 What is one of the best pieces of advice you’ve received?

Make three lists: ‘what can you do?’, ‘what do you want to do?’, and ‘what will people pay you to do?’. Find something that overlaps all three.

26 What is something you’ve always wanted to try but you’ve been too scared to do?

Be sensible (something my six-year old son never tires of telling me).

27 What is the best advice for your 18 year old self?

Learn Unix, eat more fruit, and do not — under any circumstances — go to see Doctor and the Medics play a gig at Bodington Hall in Leeds next year.

28 What is the best way to de-stress?

Long walks (or short runs) while listening to tech-related podcasts.

29 What is the last thing you watched?

The new ‘Star Trek: Picard’ show. So good.

30 What is the weirdest thing you’ve had in your bag?

A hard drive full of budgie genome data?

31 What is your favorite animal?

I will always have a soft spot for Caenorhabditis elegans — probably the animal that still has the highest quality and most complete genome sequence — but lets go with meerkats.

32 What is your favorite book?

Clearly, ‘UNIX and Perl to the Rescue! : A Field Guide for the Life Sciences (And Other Data-Rich Pursuits)’ is the book that most of us had wish we had written. I will also give a mention to ’The Framley Examiner’ as no other book has made me cry so uncontrollably, with tears of laughter.

33 What is your favorite comfort food?

Chinese food…especially sweet and sour dishes.

34 What is your favorite day of the year?

Festivus (December 23).

35 What is your favorite plant?

Paris japonica is a Japanese species that has the largest genome of any known plant. At 150 Gbp it’s ~50 times the size of a human genome which is, frankly, a little bit greedy.

36 What is your favorite science fact?

German biochemist Albrecht Kossel was responsible for characterising the bases that are found in DNA and, more importantly, he also named three of them (guanine had already been named). This happened between 1885 and 1901 over 60 years before scientists would start representing the order of bases by their initial letters (A, C, G, and T). If Albrecht had by chance chosen two or more names with the same first letter, then the digital representation of genetic information would be very different (and a lot more confusing)!

37 What is your favorite season?

Fall

38 What is your favorite smell?

I like it when you enter a house and the smell of food being cooked overwhelms you (in a good way) and gets you salivating in anticipation.

39 What is your favorite sound?

Wilton Felder’s isolated bass track from the Jackson 5’s ‘I Want You Back’ is a thing of sublime beauty (find it on YouTube). I’ll also give a shout out for the sound of Brady Haran and Tim Hein — co-hosts of the ‘The Unmade Podcast’ —  making each other laugh (often unintentionally).

40 What is your favorite thing about yourself?

I like to come up with unusual/quirky ways of thinking about things. Also, my name is an anagram of ‘Am bad thinker’.

41 What is your favorite word (in any language)?

I’m somewhat obsessed by the *phrase* ‘Terms and conditions may apply’ but if I had to pick a word it would be ‘Zyxomma’ which is a genus of dragonfly. When I was a teenager I would try to find unusual words in dictionaries!

42 What is your proudest moment?

Getting my PhD is probably up there. Recently, my six-year old son amazed me by making an incredibly nerdy, but on-point joke about the recent addition of one new scene in the Disney+ version Star Wars (Greedo now says ‘Maclunky!’ before he dies). Until he starts making his own spreadsheet to needlessly track daily habits, I think that’s probably going to clinch it.

43 What kind of tree would you be?

Giant redwood (Sequoiadendron giganteum). Go big or go home!

44 What’s the best thing about where you live?

In south London we are close to a couple of connected woods (Dulwich Woods and Sydenham Hill Woods) which are remnants of the former ‘Great North Wood’. They are just big enough to lose yourself from civilisation…and if it wasn’t for the ever-present planes flying overhead, you might also forget that you are still in London.

45 Tell us something we probably don’t know.

I run the Twitter account @CheeseNewsNow…the leading (and only?) source of irreverent cheese-based news.

46 Who would you like to see 46 Questions interview next?

Kristen Beck (@theladybeck)