American-based scientist Ewan Plant spends much time in a laboratory but has also enjoyed getting to see the world since leaving Oamaru. The former Waitaki Boys’ High School pupil clocks in with Hayden Meikle
I live in Washington, DC … with my wife, Sarah, in a 100-year old house. We moved into DC about 10 years ago so we could be close to public transport and the excitement of the city. DC is a small city that becomes crowded every day with visitors and workers who commute in from the surrounding suburbs. Our neighbourhood is socio-economically and ethnically quite diverse. We have neighbours born on different continents, as well as some that were born in DC and have lived in the same house their whole life. The great thing about DC being filled with people from all over the world is that it has expanded our network of friends incredibly.
My work is as a scientist … for the Food and Drug Administration. The research part of my work is investigating ways of improving vaccines against influenza, and shepherding interns through the summer-term break. I also review the manufacturing aspects of the documents that the manufacturers submit when they propose changes to their product.
The FDA job came about … through networking and being interested in my work. After finishing my PhD in biochemistry at the University of Otago, I got a job in a yeast laboratory at the University of Maryland. My boss hired me because he couldn’t imagine why someone would leave New Zealand unless they were interested in the work! We used yeast as a model organism to study viruses, including the Sars coronavirus that caused a brief epidemic in 2003. Because my work involved collaboration at the FDA, I was known by a group that needed additional employees after the 2009 influenza pandemic. The pivotal connection was made after discussions in the corridor with colleagues about how difficult it was to get a job.
The best part of my job … is that I get to do a mix of research, regulatory and mentoring work. I enjoy devising experiments that might lead to improved global health. Lab experiments are very satisfying when they work. When experiments don’t work and flaws in my hypotheses emerge, it is good to have a different focus for a while. The regulatory work is a little bit like sleuthing, looking for things that might be out of place or overlooked. I like mentoring because it is giving someone else insight into something they might not see otherwise, and it reminds me that my work needs to be relevant and accessible to others.
The worst part of my job … is the 40-minute commute each way. There is a bike trail I use during spring and autumn which is much nicer, and I run with a group of friends at lunchtime. This year, my FDA running group is participating in the Ragnar Run, a two-day, 200-mile (320km) relay run from Cumberland, MD to Yards Park in DC.
Sarah and I have two children Cady and Zeke, both born in DC … I have gained a much greater understanding of the world explaining things to them, taking them on trips and reading thousands of children’s books – some thousands of times! One of the best things about living in the capital is that there are so many things going on all year round that are family friendly. It is also nicely located so that we get four distinct seasons: snow in winter, cherry blossoms in spring, trips to the beach in summer, and camping in fall. I have been able to see about a third of the states through work or family trips. These trips have included Niagara Falls, the Rockies, the Cascades, the Gulf of Mexico, the Grand Canyon and the Arizona desert.
I like visiting places … with some natural beauty. Our international travels as a family have focused on New Zealand; we want Cady and Zeke to love it like we do. Our trip home this year was for my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary and my dad’s 75th, which was on the same day Zeke turned 10. When we can’t stay with friends to catch up, we make a point of staying at bed and breakfasts because the locals always know some secret little spot or place to eat that is not highlighted in the guidebooks.
Our last visit to Oamaru … was fantastic. We saw a lot of my familiar faces and places, and Cady and Zeke are old enough to remember it. There are many things that appear the same, at least from the outside: the houses, the parks, and the schools. But there are many things, especially around the harbour area that now have a visible character unique to Oamaru. We especially loved the penguin colony and the Steampunk gallery, not to mention the plethora of excellent coffee shops, and the farmers’ market. The people around Oamaru are more relaxed and open than those here in DC.
I enjoyed reminiscing … about my years at Waitaki Boys’ High School with old school friends. It seemed like a time when we were able to be ourselves and had time to do a lot of things. At school, we did things like play a rustic version of hockey with sticks and a tennis ball in the tennis courts, and we made fake casts to get out of the cross-country (we ran it anyway). We took long bike rides, camping in Duntroon. We started our own softball team. Much of what I remember isn’t actual school work but that school was a place where friends converged and made plans for what they would do outside of it.
In 10 years from now … I hope to still be excited by laboratory work and introducing others to that world of discovery. I will definitely still make sure some of my holidays are spent exploring all the different places where my friends and family live.