Memories of Michael: how a chat turned into a collaboration and a career path
Dr Simon Rudge, a senior researcher in Michael’s research group, recounts a serendipitous first encounter with Michael, leading him to join the Wakelam lab in Birmingham years later and then move with Michael to the Institute. This is the fourth remembrance article in a series that aims to draw together different perspectives from people who knew and worked with Michael.
I first met Michael, or Mike as I always knew him, at a FASEB Phospholipase conference in Saxtons River, Vermont, in 1995. Mike sat next to me at the front of the seminar room just before the session began, and we instantly started chatting. I was struck by his energy, his enthusiasm and, above all, his friendliness.
I felt very fortunate to meet him that day. I had just started working on the newly discovered yeast phospholipase D (PLD) enzyme, Spo14, with JoAnne Engebrecht in Stony Brook, New York. When I had moved to the US several months earlier, I had no plans to work on PLD. As it was a new field to me, I had quickly got up to speed by reading all of the papers written by the experts; the Wakelam lab in Birmingham. So sitting there at the conference that day with the man himself, I seized the opportunity to engage him in a lively exchange of ideas.
Fast forward a few years, and our paths crossed again. During this time Mike had been developing the cutting-edge methods and techniques that had led to his pioneering work using lipid mass spectrometry. In a short space of time, he had revolutionised how we studied lipid signalling in cells and as a result of collaborating with Mike, I now knew far more about the lipid product generated by Spo14, and again benefited from his expertise and his generosity.
Many years later, PLD was the catalyst for us getting back in contact once more. I had made the decision to return home to the UK, unsure what lay ahead for me. I contacted Mike to see if he had a position open in his lab. Fortunately he did, and I started working with him in Birmingham. Mike was very welcoming, and again his enthusiasm inspired me. When he asked me to join him in the move to the Babraham Institute, it was an easy decision.
Even though Mike was exceptionally busy running the Institute, he always made time for his lab, and despite the fact that his lab was the furthest one from his office in the Hall, he would prefer to talk face to face to share information, feedback and ideas, rather than doing so over email. Having said that, he walked at such breakneck speed, no email would have arrived more quickly than he could make the journey on foot!
Mike was a very good listener and treated everyone equally, irrespective of career stage. He enjoyed having people in his lab with different backgrounds, interests and skill sets, and who would offer different scientific perspectives. He often spoke about his aim to encourage everyone in his lab to develop their own ideas and help them become independent scientists, striking the right balance between giving us room to grow and offering guidance when help was needed. On a personal level, I’m grateful to him for helping me forge my career path.
Always approachable, kind and supportive, with unlimited energy and a passion for science, which he instilled in everyone who worked with him. I will miss Mike greatly.
Notes to Editors
Dr Louisa Wood, Institute Communications Manager, firstname.lastname@example.org
Michael Wakelam and members of his research group (January 2020).
News announcement 1 April 2020 - Michael Wakelam 1955 - 2020
Memories of Michael: a colleague’s tribute. Professor Wolf Reik, Head of the Epigenetics research programme, remembers Michael Wakelam. Published 21 April 2020.
Memories of Michael: a mentor, friend and director. Dr Simon Cook, senior group leader in the Signalling research programme, describes joining the Wakelam lab in Glasgow as a PhD student. Published 30 April 2020.
Memories of Michael: his contribution to EU-LIFE. Three EU-LIFE colleagues, Luis Serrano, Michela Bertero and Marta Agostinho, remember Michael’s influence and enthusiasm for the EU-LIFE alliance of research institutes. Published on 7 May 2020.
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The Babraham Institute undertakes world-class life sciences research to generate new knowledge of biological mechanisms underpinning ageing, development and the maintenance of health. Our research focuses on cellular signalling, gene regulation and the impact of epigenetic regulation at different stages of life. By determining how the body reacts to dietary and environmental stimuli and manages microbial and viral interactions, we aim to improve wellbeing and support healthier ageing. The Institute is strategically funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), part of UK Research and Innovation, through an Institute Core Capability Grant and also receives funding from other UK research councils, charitable foundations, the EU and medical charities.