Stephen Holman, Postdoctoral Research Associate, University of Liverpool
Winner of the YIA 2010
Stephen read for his PhD at the University of Southampton under the supervision of Professor John Langley and in colloboration with Pfizer Global Research and Development. His thesis was on the application of mass spectrometry for the rapid and definitive characterisation of oxidised pharmaceutical drug metabolites, and he was awarded his PhD in 2010. Since 2009, Stephen has worked as a post-doctoral research associate, firstly at the Michael Barber Centre for Mass Spectrometry at the University of Manchester in the laboratory of Professor Claire Eyers, and latterly at the Centre for Proteome Research at the University of Liverpool working for Professor Rob Beynon. He currently works in the field of quantitative proteomics, applying both labelled and label-free approaches to assist with the construction of mathematical models describing yeast metabolism with collaborators in the UK annd Europe. Stephen is a regular presenter at national and international conferences, an associate editorial board member of Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry, and supports the communication of science to the public as a STEM ambassador.
What are you current working on and what are your career highlights since winning the NIA?
I currently work in the field of proteomics, with a particular emphasis on protein quantification. Looking back at the article I wrote as part of the nomination for the Young Investigator Award (Holman & Wright, 2009, Bioanalysis, 1, 521-522), I said that I was aspiring to work in macromolecule analysis, so I guess something has gone right!
I have been working as a post-doctoral research associate since October 2009, firstly in the Michael Barber Centre for Mass Spectrometry at the University of Manchester, and since May 2013 in the Centre for Proteome Research at the University of Liverpool. I have worked on many proteomics projects during this time, with the highlight probably being our effort to absolute quantify the proteome of the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae, a commonly used model organism in biological laboratories worldwide. The major output from this project, published earlier this year (Lawless et al., 2016, Mol. Cell. Proteomics, 15, 1309-1322), reported the largest absolute quantification proteomics study to date, which I’m very proud of.
This effort was very collaborative, with involvement from molecular biologists, bioinformaticians, cell biologists, and analytical chemists, which I very much enjoyed. The opportunity to learn about other disciplines has shaped my career, and whilst trying to maintain up-to-date knowledge in my own field, I also attempt to stay abreast of the latest advances in other areas too. I find that knowing about other areas of science stimulates ideas for new research in my own field.
What did you hope to achieve when you entered for the award?
When I was nominated for my award by my industrial PhD supervisor, Dr. Pat Wright (then at Pfizer Global R&D, now at Keele University), I never in my wildest dreams thought that I would win it. The calibre of nominees was extremely high for the first iteration of the award, as it has been every year since, and I was very humbled when I received the email informing me that I had won.
My belief that I never thought that I would win meant that I didn’t have any expectations! I was just pleased to be nominated, and it gave a great boost to my confidence that Pat believed that I was worthy of a nomination.
What was the impact of receiving the NIA?
I benefitted greatly from being awarded the inaugural Young Investigator Award from Bioanalysis. I was visited by members of the journal’s editorial team to be presented with the award, and the visit was covered in a paper published later that year (Booth et al., 2010, Bioanalysis, 2, 1547-1552). I believe that this raised my profile within the bioanalytical community.
I was also offered the opportunity to publish a paper in the journal, and together with my post-doctoral supervisors authored a review on selected reaction monitoring-mass spectrometry for quantitative proteomics (Holman et al., 2012, Bioanalysis, 4, 1763-1786). This is a well cited paper, and I hope that colleagues in the field who have read it have found it useful.
Furthermore I was invited to present a webinar on the same topic (https://www.bioanalysis-zone.com/2014/02/21/webinar-the-power-of-selected-reaction-monitoring-in-quantitative-proteomics/), from which I made several contacts in the field. Therefore, my career has benefitted greatly from receiving the Young Investigator Award.
What are your longer term plans?
In the future, I think that I would like to lead my own academic research group. The freedom afforded by the academic environment to work on challenging problems really appeals to me. I have enjoyed my career thus far in academia in respect of collaborating with colleagues with a variety of backgrounds, and believe that the interactions have enriched my experience and have made me a better scientist.
I truly believe that multidisciplinary approaches will be required to solve the challenges facing the world today, such as antibiotic resistance, renewable energy solutions, and food safety to name but a few, and the variety of disciplines that naturally assemble in university environments means that they are the ideal place to make contributions to solving these problems. I would really like to be part of those solutions.
What advice would you offer to other scientists new to bioanalysis?
This is a rather tricky question to answer as I do not feel experienced nor wise enough to be offering advice! I guess my main piece of advice would be to always look for opportunities to work with colleagues, both inside and outside your field of interest, with the sole viewpoint of advancing science.
In the competitive and fast-moving world of science, it can often be the case that people ask the question “What’s in it for me?” before engaging in a new activity. Whilst this is obviously an eminently sensible approach to take, it can run the risk of missing out on that potentially career-changing collaboration, that chance of discovering something truly novel, or just the possibility of learning something new and interesting. Of course new bioanalysts must be mindful of engaging in activities that develop and enhance their career, but I’d say once-in-while, take a chance… you never know where it might lead!
Would you recommend entering the NIA?
I would definitely recommend entering the NIA. As I mentioned above, I have benefitted greatly from being involved with the award, and believe that colleagues in the field will experience a similar boost to their career simply by being nominated for an award that in a short time has established a high level of prestige.
It is an opportunity to establish a profile in a very competitive field, which of course is hugely beneficial. It is also a chance to network and establish new contacts, which can lead to job opportunities, collaborations on research projects, and invitations to present at conferences to name but a few of the benefits. Therefore, I would encourage new bioanalysts to think about entering the competition, and more experienced ones to nominate their colleagues for the award!