Robert Insall

BBC news has a piece on how cool citizen scientists are! Go BBC!

Favourite Thing: Argue about how living things work. With other people (any other people) who also like to argue about how things work. It’s amazing how much you can find out by arguing! But people sometimes think I hate my friends because I argue with them all the time.



School – Westminster, in London, from 1977 to 1984; College – Cambridge University; PhD – Addenbrooke’s Hospital.


A Ph.D. Maybe it’s time to get something else as well.

Work History:

Cambridge; Baltimore, USA; University College London; Birmingham University

Current Job:

Senior Group Leader at the Beatson Institute in Glasgow


Cancer Research UK

Me and my work

I study how cells move – cancer cells, amoeba cells, embryo cells – they’re all interesting.

Stuff this.  Let’s answer the questions people have worried about, rather than more descriptions of my work.

Q.  Is it possible to be a successful science geek and have a family, etc.?

A.  Yes.  Here is successful geekwife (who works on the same thing as me but has a bigger, better lab) and the geekkids (in truth only one is a geek, and all are outrageously sociable and fun-loving):


Actually, here’s what they REALLY look like:


Big conclusion – you can be a scientist and have a family and enjoy yourself, all at once, if you work hard (we don’t watch too much TV; but it’s rubbish, anyway…)

My Typical Day

Talk with my lab members; write up what we find; read and assess work from others.

Other related questions:

Q:  Do you get to have fun, or is life just hard work?

A:  Of course I have fun.  I love my work, which makes the days easier, but fun gets had too:


Q:  Do you have hobbies?

A:  Of course!  They tend to be geeky hobbies, but what did you expect?  I like flying very large kites.  Sometimes I put cameras in them.



What I'd do with the money

I have an old but excellent microscope; I’d like to set it up as a touring show to let people see cells with their own eyes.

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Animated. Geeky. Talkative.

Who is your favourite singer or band?

Currently Lana del Rey. But I mostly listen to classical or 70’s heavy rock.

What is the most fun thing you've done?

Hard to say, really, fun is usually in the future. It was fun taking the kids into camp dressed up and winning the prize for “best costume” that day.

If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!

(1) I’d like to be able to stay a lab head and keep my ability to influence things, but work at the bench all day; (2) I’d like to be cleverer; (3) I’d like the weather in the west of Scotland to get better

What did you want to be after you left school?

Always wanted to be a scientist…

Were you ever in trouble in at school?

My first junior school asked me to leave because I didn’t fit in. I wasn’t in (much) trouble, they didn’t like me and I didn’t like them.

What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?

I discovered why amoebic dysentery (a nasty, tropical disease) makes you so sick. Needless to say, it’s because of the way the amoeba cells move.

Tell us a joke.

What did number zero say to number eight? “Nice belt”.

Other stuff

Work photos:

This is a 3D image of a moving cell, taken with our new microscope:


Just took this photo of the lab:


Hard at work (all hail the purple gloves):


The view from my office window:


My office: