ROY ROBINS-BROWNE

INTERVIEW BY PHIL LU AND JUSTIN LEE
PHOTOGRAPHY BY SUSANNA MO


 

On how he started lecturing:
A lot of things come together, my boss was really smart and a lovely guy, but very shy and didn’t like teaching or fronting up to students. At the time I was working with the blood culture laboratory, and he came up to me and said he had lectures to give on septicaemia and asked me if I would like to give the lecture. Afterwards, he said I gave a much better lecture than he ever would [and asked if I would] like to give all his lectures, so that’s how it began.

Those lectures I’m sure were terrible compared to the ones I give now. They were better than his, but they were pretty terrible because you get anxious and think “Ah, I’ve got to mention this, I’ve got to mention that…” Sometimes I forget to tell you stuff you don’t really know, but I work on the principles, so if you remember about 1/5 of my lectures that should be alright – to get 50% that is. If you want to get a H1 you need to remember all of it!

On his experience of medical school:
I think what I really enjoyed at medical school, the reason I became a pathologist, partly is because we did a traditional course. We did pathology in third year and micro was part of pathology – only like parasitology was a separate subject with 28 lectures or so with a separate exam and prac. What was great was that we had a few lectures that covered basic principles and they told us what we needed to know and we learned a lot of that by, in the case of pathology, going through bottles and looking at slides. In the case of microbiology, they had something like the workshops you do now except there wouldn’t be tutors there, they just gave you the notes and you just did it in your own time.

And I loved that, just loved the whole idea that you were responsible for your own learning because after then you were taught like [you were in] high school. It was the first place that taught us like that and I thought [it was] great, this is what uni should be about and I really enjoyed it so much.

Then I left there and found that patients were annoying and I couldn’t wait to specialise in laboratory medicine.

On how he’s influenced medical professionals
My daughter is working at the Austin, so I went there and was waiting for her. While I was waiting for her, there was a paediatrician explaining the pathogenesis of bronchiolitis to a mother of his patient, a child who wasn’t able to breathe, and it was word-for-word what I had given in my lecture. And I thought this was so satisfying because the guy remembered it and he’s using to explain what’s going on in this little girl’s lungs to the patient’s mother. And I thought that’s really, really nice! And it’s a terrific explanation, he’s making it quite understandable for the mother and asked if she had any questions.

 

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” I asked Helen: “Helen, you’re using my slides and it takes you one third of the time, how do you do it?” And she says: “Roy, I’ve got no stories. I just lecture to the slides.”

__________________

 


On how fungi helped us rule the world:

I’ll tell you something else that’s interesting.
There’s a very clever guy, I know him as an acquaintance, his name is Arturo Casivalero, something like that. He was a nuclear physicist, but changed his occupation to become a mycologist- a fungal expert. A big difference. He became really interested in fungi, but he knows a lot about nuclear physics as well. He’s a very smart guy. And he’s got this terrific hypothesis that fungi are responsible for humans being the dominant species on Earth at the moment.

As you know, mammals and dinosaurs co-existed. But dinosaurs dominated at that time and something knocked them off – but they didn’t get knocked out completely. No, they didn’t all die- there were a number left. So now the mammals and dinosaurs were competing for the existing resources. And the dinosaurs- because they were cold-blooded- were very susceptible to fungal infections because fungi grow much better at low temperatures than they do at high temperatures. The number of fungi that can affect mammals- as you’ll hear, I’ll give you one lecture on fungal infections- is very small, compared to the number that exists, because they don’t grow well at our body temperature.

 
 

And so, mammals were naturally resistant; and of course the dinosaurs that did survive are the birds- and birds can control their body temperature. In fact, their body temperatures are higher than ours- around 42 degrees, whereas ours is 37. So, the birds survived, the mammals survived. The dinosaurs didn’t do that well.

So according to Arturo, fungi determined what species dominated the Earth after the dinosaurs got into trouble. Yeah, it’s a very interesting idea. When they were on the verge of survival or extinction, the fungi made the difference, and the mammals could come to the fore. Whereas before that, these carnivorous dinosaurs were keeping the mammals under control (The mammals were much smaller in those days). Yeah, so quite an interesting idea!

On which animal he would be if he had to choose:
Being an elephant wouldn’t be such a bad thing, they don’t fear very much. I have been quite philosophical about this and I have decided that being an antelope would not be very nice because someone is always trying to eat you…. They can’t even go to sleep because someone might eat them. But the animals doing the eating don’t have it easy. They have to go and chase something down that has teeth and horns. Predator and prey are hard, but elephants have it easy, they are neither predator nor prey.

On his lecturing style:
Helen Cain, I don’t know if she lectures you guys, she gives a lecture on antibiotics in second year in Microbes and Infections and she covers in one lecture what takes me 2-3 to do, and I asked Helen: “Helen, you’re using my slides and it takes you one third of the time, how do you do it?” And she says: “Roy I’ve got no stories. I just lecture to the slides.” And Helen’s a very good lecturer, but the advantage for you guys is I don’t cover that many facts.


On how he started lecturing:
A lot of things come together, my boss was really smart and a lovely guy, but very shy and didn’t like teaching or fronting up to students. At the time I was working with the blood culture laboratory, and he came up to me and said he had lectures to give on septicaemia and asked me if I would like to give the lecture. Afterwards, he said I gave a much better lecture than he ever would [and asked if I would] like to give all his lectures, so that’s how it began.

Those lectures I’m sure were terrible compared to the ones I give now. They were better than his, but they were pretty terrible because you get anxious and think “Ah, I’ve got to mention this, I’ve got to mention that…” Sometimes I forget to tell you stuff you don’t really know, but I work on the principles, so if you remember about 1/5 of my lectures that should be alright – to get 50% that is. If you want to get a H1 you need to remember all of it!

On his experience of medical school:
I think what I really enjoyed at medical school, the reason I became a pathologist, partly is because we did a traditional course. We did pathology in third year and micro was part of pathology – only like parasitology was a separate subject with 28 lectures or so with a separate exam and prac. What was great was that we had a few lectures that covered basic principles and they told us what we needed to know and we learned a lot of that by, in the case of pathology, going through bottles and looking at slides. In the case of microbiology, they had something like the workshops you do now except there wouldn’t be tutors there, they just gave you the notes and you just did it in your own time.

And I loved that, just loved the whole idea that you were responsible for your own learning because after then you were taught like [you were in] high school. It was the first place that taught us like that and I thought [it was] great, this is what uni should be about and I really enjoyed it so much.

Then I left there and found that patients were annoying and I couldn’t wait to specialise in laboratory medicine.

On how he’s influenced medical professionals
My daughter is working at the Austin, so I went there and was waiting for her. While I was waiting for her, there was a paediatrician explaining the pathogenesis of bronchiolitis to a mother of his patient, a child who wasn’t able to breathe, and it was word-for-word what I had given in my lecture. And I thought this was so satisfying because the guy remembered it and he’s using to explain what’s going on in this little girl’s lungs to the patient’s mother. And I thought that’s really, really nice! And it’s a terrific explanation, he’s making it quite understandable for the mother and asked if she had any questions.


On how fungi helped us rule the world:

I’ll tell you something else that’s interesting.
There’s a very clever guy, I know him as an acquaintance, his name is Arturo Casivalero, something like that. He was a nuclear physicist, but changed his occupation to become a mycologist- a fungal expert. A big difference. He became really interested in fungi, but he knows a lot about nuclear physics as well. He’s a very smart guy. And he’s got this terrific hypothesis that fungi are responsible for humans being the dominant species on Earth at the moment.

As you know, mammals and dinosaurs co-existed. But dinosaurs dominated at that time and something knocked them off – but they didn’t get knocked out completely. No, they didn’t all die- there were a number left. So now the mammals and dinosaurs were competing for the existing resources. And the dinosaurs- because they were cold-blooded- were very susceptible to fungal infections because fungi grow much better at low temperatures than they do at high temperatures. The number of fungi that can affect mammals- as you’ll hear, I’ll give you one lecture on fungal infections- is very small, compared to the number that exists, because they don’t grow well at our body temperature.

__________________

” I asked Helen: “Helen, you’re using my slides and it takes you one third of the time, how do you do it?” And she says: “Roy, I’ve got no stories. I just lecture to the slides.”

__________________

And so, mammals were naturally resistant; and of course the dinosaurs that did survive are the birds- and birds can control their body temperature. In fact, their body temperatures are higher than ours- around 42 degrees, whereas ours is 37. So, the birds survived, the mammals survived. The dinosaurs didn’t do that well.

So according to Arturo, fungi determined what species dominated the Earth after the dinosaurs got into trouble. Yeah, it’s a very interesting idea. When they were on the verge of survival or extinction, the fungi made the difference, and the mammals could come to the fore. Whereas before that, these carnivorous dinosaurs were keeping the mammals under control (The mammals were much smaller in those days). Yeah, so quite an interesting idea!

On which animal he would be if he had to choose:
Being an elephant wouldn’t be such a bad thing, they don’t fear very much. I have been quite philosophical about this and I have decided that being an antelope would not be very nice because someone is always trying to eat you…. They can’t even go to sleep because someone might eat them. But the animals doing the eating don’t have it easy. They have to go and chase something down that has teeth and horns. Predator and prey are hard, but elephants have it easy, they are neither predator nor prey.

On his lecturing style:
Helen Cain, I don’t know if she lectures you guys, she gives a lecture on antibiotics in second year in Microbes and Infections and she covers in one lecture what takes me 2-3 to do, and I asked Helen: “Helen, you’re using my slides and it takes you one third of the time, how do you do it?” And she says: “Roy I’ve got no stories. I just lecture to the slides.” And Helen’s a very good lecturer, but the advantage for you guys is I don’t cover that many facts.