John McManus


Talkin’ ‘Bout Degeneration

I'm from: Tasmania
Current Location: Hobart
Position: PhD candidate, Wicking Dementia Research and Education Centre, University of Tasmania
Field of research/work: Neuroscience
Dementia Research
YTS Years: 2022

John's Notable career moments

  • Started a degree in Medical Research because I didn’t get into Medicine

  • Failed two units in my second year and considered dropping out.

    Found casual lab work over Summer with Wicking, which sparked a real enthusiasm for Research.

  • Restructured my degree so I could continue studying; failed three of my four first semester units.

  • Failed three more units.

  • Failed one more unit.

  • After 7 years and 9 failed units, Graduated Bachelor of Biotechnology and Medical Research.

  • Completed a Bachelor of Biotechnology and Medical Research Honours, working alongside the researchers that inspired me to pursue this work.

About John McManus

Why is a raven like a writing desk? Scientific research always begins with a question – and if you’re the kind of person who questions everything, it just makes sense to build a career around it. In practice though, conducting scientific research is a lot harder than just asking a question.

Even seemingly simple questions – ‘Why are leaves green?’ or ‘Why is the sky blue?’ – invariably lead to more questions; ‘Why aren’t these leaves green?’ ‘Why isn’t the sky always blue?’ At some point you actually have to go about answering those questions, and for me, this is where the real fun begins. Asking the questions may be how we begin as scientists, but its in the creative ways we go about answering those questions that we can truly shine.

My work shines quite literally, though – I make brain cells glow. By taking advantage of the way cellular proteins interact, we can design fluorescent markers that illuminate specific targets within the cell. Just like that, the infinite complexity of the brain starts to become a bit clearer; we start finding some answers and, of course, coming up with new questions. If you’ve ever found yourself in a new city and felt the urge to explore every street, map every path and know what’s around every corner, you’ll know how I feel about understanding the brain.

I’m going to play mind reader for a moment, and predict that you’ve forgotten something before. I know, that’s an easy one. Why aren’t our memories permanent, though? Also, you probably know someone who has had a disease that affected their brain, causing it to degenerate over time. For me, it was my grandmother. Dementia robs someone of their personality, and then their autonomy. Watching this tough-as-leather emigrant mother of five boys fade away at the hands of an invisible disease was difficult. Now I work to understand why these diseases occur, and what causes our brain cells to degenerate. Simple questions on the surface, but we know better than to expect a simple answer.

So why is a raven like a writing desk? Ask an interesting question, but dazzle us with how you answer it.

John's Photo Gallery