Interview: Vincent O’Connor

2 Mar

interview: Amberley Stephens                              text: Alex Oldman

Vincent O'Connor: a self-portrait

Vincent O’Connor originally applied for medicine, and failed to get the grades…yes he is a failed medic! However his reason for choosing medicine was purely because it was a ‘good professional career’. Luckily for us he didn’t go down that path! He took time out to reapply and revaluate his future during which he travelled, skied and worked in the dole office.

Vincent got into Medicine after applying for a second time. However, the University of Reading looked far more appealing, offering a degree in Physiology and Biochemistry. His choice of course was inspired by a fundamental interest in science which had come from working in a lab as a technician at weekends and during the summer. Vincent took the place at Reading University and after a year out went on to do a PhD at UCL where his interest in neurochemistry and cellular receptors grew. He moved to Frankfurt with his wife and small child to work at the Max Plank Institute (MPI) for Brain Research. He was there for six years, and almost unbelievably Vincent didn’t learn any German, claiming that it was unnecessary to learn the language! He then progressed with his research and read into synaptic plasticity at the National Institute for medical research before coming to Southampton in 1999.

At Southampton, Vincent has a broad base of research going on in his labs including brain function, receptors, neurotransmitter release and synaptic function. He is interested in the ‘basic biology’ that occurs in the mechanisms and systems of synaptic generation and release.

The researcher Vincent most admires is Bernard Katz. He was a Jewish refugee during World War II who came to England to seek safety, where he worked in UCL. Bernard Katz identified the fundamentals of synaptic transmission. He received the Nobel Prize in 1970 in Physiology and Medicine. From this one man, all neuroscience research carried out today builds on the basis of his groundbreaking experiments.
In prying into Vincent’s personal life, we thought that with such a big personality, he must have a favourite dessert or restaurant he frequents…..disappointingly, much like Prof. Fox, he doesn’t have a favourite food, but did mention that due to his physical dimensions, ‘it’s clear that I do enjoy food’. The search to discover the Biological Science department’s favourite culinary delights continues…perhaps next issue…

Reading is another of Vincent’s past times; he recommends ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time’ by Mark Haddon and ‘Great Apes’ by Will Self, which catalogues a world where chimpanzees have evolved to have self-awareness and humans have taken on the characteristics of chimpanzees. Wonderful stuff!

We are very grateful to have Vincent lecturing us for the last three years, he is widely recognised as one of the departments more eccentric characters, with razor sharp wit and a cheeky grin to match. We wish him luck in all his professional and personal endeavours.


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