Every week I post a quick Q&A with one of our bloggers on the network, so you can get to know them better. This week, I chat with James Byrne of Disease Prone blog.

Hello! Let's start with first things first. What is the name of your blog and why did you choose that name - what does it mean?

Hi! My name is James Byrne and I write the blog Disease Prone. I really liked ‘Disease Prone’ as a blog name from way back when I started my first blog. That blog ended up being called Disease of the Week because it had a little more traction with our intended audience (my co-blogger at the time had written a column for On Dit, the University of Adelaide’s student newspaper, with the same name).

When I struck out on my own I recycled what I thought was a good idea. A blog about disease is, by a twisted definition, disease prone. Also, because I haven’t called it “Diseases of human-kind” I think it fits my style and audience better: a little erratic, hopefully humerus at times and as entertaining as it is informative.

Where does the artwork for your banner come from, and what are you trying to convey with it?

Final version of the banner

The artwork was put together by a fantastic artist named Rogan Tinsley and you should click here if you want him to do some work for you and click here if you want to check out his Tumblr. What is it trying to convey? You’d have to ask him J. I’ve always struggled to express myself via ‘art’, I think I’m much better with words, so I said to Rogan to do what he liked and he sent me back the art you can see on my blog. For me now it says so much about the blog. The image is interesting and varied, focuses on the older style anatomical drawing and has a diseased heart. For me this matches the blog exquisitely, interesting stories with nods to history but always with a disease to hang the story on, a diseased heart or core I guess.

First draft of the banner

Tell us more about yourself - where are you from, how did you get into science?

As far as I can tell I am the furthest away from America and possibly the only community member in the Southern Hemisphere. Born and bred in Adelaide, South Australia I, when not writing here, work on my PhD in bacterial pathogenesis (at this point in time I have only one chapter left to write… I should really be doing that I guess) or teaching. Currently my PhD is on an official hiatus so I can preserve my scholarship while I am employed as an associate lecturer for undergraduate biology. I teach first year science students and medical students biology in all its splendour but have also assisted in teaching second and third year medical students and also taught biology to postgraduate physicists.

I don’t remember deciding I was going to become a scientist, it just seemed to happen. I was okay at most subjects in high school but just enjoyed and performed best in science labs so when I went to University I followed some sage advice from a career counsellor, ‘Forget money, you can make a lot of money doing anything if you’re good enough. Just keep doing what interests you and what you have a passion for and you’ll be happy’.

How did you get into science blogging and science writing? What were the early influences on you regarding your blogging style and topics?

Ever tried a PhD? Its hard and mine sucked for a long time. I spent 18 months doing (essentially) the same experiment every week until my supervisor told me to forget it and abandon that part of my project. Nearly killed me. I discovered then that I needed short term goals I could achieve not just lofty ones to be fulfilled years from now so I attended a workshop on popular science writing being held by the major newspaper in my part of the world The Advertiser. From there I was invited to submit pieces to a column they had called ‘Can You Believe It?’ and eventually found I wanted to do more in a less restrictive format so started Disease of the Week in November 2009 with my friend and fellow PhD student Thomas.

I didn’t really read heaps of blogs until about a month before Disease of the Week but I was initially inspired by Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science and, of course, Ed Yong’s Not Exactly Rocket Science. It was about this time I also got into podcasts and started listening to The Naked Scientists and an amazing scientist and fount of knowledge all Australians know as Dr. Karl. I now follow heaps of blogs and really like Superbug, We Beasties and erv. I also listen to Dr. Kiki’s Science Hour, The Guardian’s Science Weekly and TWiM regularly.

What is your blog about? Who is your target audience, and why do you think people should read your blog?

As I hinted at about the blog itself is about disease. Whilst I concentrate on human diseases I see no reason why I couldn’t tackle the diseases of other animals and plants on occasion. My grounding is in microbiology so I try to limit my posts about bacterial diseases, which forces me to look into other conditions. So I would say, generally, if interested in biology, biomedicine, medicine etc. you might find this blog at least worth a look. The posts are kept as jargon free as possible and I try to fill them with links so people can follow their interests away from the page or to clarify their understanding of topics I discuss. Having said that I try and pitch my pieces at people who perhaps don’t know too much about biology but are interested in finding it out.

Anything else interesting about you, perhaps cool hobbies?

Hobbies… Um, this is my hobby and probably the thing that most people I talk to are interested in when talking to me. Also along with my other two jobs I can’t think of when I would do anything else. As it turns out I will be playing golf the next two weekends in a row, does that make me a golfer? Probably not…

I’m trying to develop my cooking skills and am beginning to develop a nice little repertoire of dishes I know I can do. If you have any nice vegetarian dishes you’d like to share leave them in the comments and will happily steal them J.

I also have two dogs who destroy my house so cleaning up is a kind of hobby for me.

I promise, as soon as the PhD is complete I will go outside and get a life. Promise.



Previously in this series:

Michelle Clement

Janet Stemwedel

Charles Q. Choi


Jennifer Ouellette

Kate Clancy

Christina Agapakis

Melissa Lott

Jennifer Frazer