Meet the Researchers

Bryn Trevelyan James

Bryn Trevelyan James


Research Area: Archaeology

What is it like being a researcher?

I find it very fulfilling. Having developed and implemented my own project I’ve felt a sense of involvement which I’m not sure I would have achieved in another position. Also, the ultimate aim of any researcher, aside from making some findings, is to engage with their peers and a wider audience to disseminate these results. In this respect there’s a duality to the role of the researcher: in some ways the process of research can be very introspective, almost solitary, as you pursue a goal; but then at the same time you must also be constantly engaging with others, be they your peers, or, in my case, the people that I work with in the field. Competitions like ‘Images of Research’ present an opportunity to show these more internal workings and concerns of an academic project

What inspired you to become a researcher?

From a young age I had an interest in history and science. I remember being taken to visit museums as a child and wondering what they did with all the things that weren’t currently on display. That curiosity obviously got the better of me as I’ve gone on to find a role that lets me look behind those closed doors. In fact, I suppose ultimately it’s an innate sense of curiosity which inspired my decision to become involved in research.

What is the best thing about being a researcher/your job?

In a word: access. Being a researcher allows you to go places and meet people you wouldn’t have an excuse to otherwise. This might mean poking around in museum stores, or travelling around the world to pursue the thread of whatever it is that you’re interested in.

What do you do in your free time?

Niall Ferguson, the historian, famously said “he didn’t have free time; he only worked”. I wouldn’t quite agree with that statement myself, although coming to the end of a PhD it does sometimes feel like it… Living in central Manchester I tend to eat & drink around the Northern Quarter, there’s also a great music and art scene. When possible I try to get away from the city to find a bit of green – either in the Pennines or further afield to North Wales. When you spend too long stuck in labs or with your head in books it’s essential to get away somewhere with wide skies and allow your mind to re-expand.

What is the first ‘science’ you remember doing?

The first experiments I remember from primary school were of the natural science variety: collecting pots of bugs, recording weather station measurements, tracing the path of the sun. I think a close interest in nature is probably one of the best introductions you can give a child to science. After all, as a discipline, it primarily centers around understanding ‘natural’ processes, so why not start getting your hands dirty at a young age!

What’s the funniest/strangest/most surprising experience you have had in your career?

Working on traditional healing in West Africa I’ve had quite a few experiences which would probably be considered unusual elsewhere: from visiting hidden Vodu healing shrines to undergoing ritual initiations to receive knowledge of secret cures. However, working in the specialist medicine markets of Ghana’s capital, Accra, particularly stands out. Animal parts are often used in African medicines, as they are in Chinese folk-medicine. In many cases to ensure freshness animals are stored live, which can certainly cause a bit of a surprise to an unsuspecting researcher who pokes around in the wrong places. Let’s just say I have a healthy respect for an angry vultures bite…

What discovery or invention could you not live without?

I’d have to say the Internet. I have no idea how people managed to chase up information effectively prior to search engines! If nothing else it’s probably the greatest time saving device since the washing machine (well aside from the inevitable procrastination element).

What do you think is the most important thing yet to be discovered/invented?

Apart from the more obvious answers, personally I’d like to see some kind of small, portable, immediate translation device to facilitate communication wherever you may be. We already have the building-blocks for this sort of invention, the mobile phone, online translation software; hopefully it’s only a matter of time before it becomes a reality.