John Douglas: we are at the very beginning

I walked from room to room with an infinity grin upon interviewing John Douglas, followed by heavy thoughts of where to start. John is a lively, complex and interesting character that loves any excuse ‘to bang on about himself’. I was in awe, learning and listening, almost as if he was my teacher, one that I would remember through the decades as having a profound influence on my thinking and my career path.

John is a lifelong learner himself, currently pursuing a PhD through Adelaide University in microbiology, starting only last year at 74. He is driven by the invisible universe, those creatures we cannot see without telescopic intervention. His natural curiosity of the world was met with a perfect inheritance gift from his mother, a telescope. The planets truly aligned in helping him find a niche academic pursuit in his retirement that marries his willingness, intelligence and curiosity. It has also fed his understanding of academic life and how young people are narrowly channeled into non-productive degrees without much hope for sustainable employment, it’s really the only politics he talks, he has more important endeavours to communicate, back to the science...

Protozoans, these microscopic (smaller than bacteria) creatures that John investigates, outweigh all other life forms on our planet, yet their vast habitat is not synonymous with the funding available for scientific research in the field.

John’s journey towards research unfolded slowly and deliberately, one career led to another. It is now his intent to leave a legacy through the discovery of new species of protozoa and how they might positively impact the health of coral. Big ideas need neurons firing from all angles with multiple institutions on board. This research is collaborative and groundbreaking.

John wonders if it’s right that he receives funding for his research considering his age, but he is fully invested and driven to learn, document and communicate findings. The wealth of life experience he can pass on to later generations cannot be bought. He sees the connection between student and teacher as permeable, the borders are drawn in pencil to encourage multiple crossings. He finds such colour in the lives of young people pursuing science, he believes this is how we will make sense of the world but reminds me, “we are at the very beginning”.

- John Douglas' story as told to Nat Power

You can read more about John's studies and findings here

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