Aquatic Scientist – Professor Kam Tang

Professor Kam Tang

It’s time for another interview with an amazing researcher! Professor Kam Tang holds a personal chair in Biosciences at Swansea University. An aquatic scientist, Kam’s work focuses on plankton ecology, biogeochemistry, and he has a particular interest in interdisciplinary research.

How would you describe your work to a 10yr old?

I am an aquatic biologist, meaning I study living things in the aquatic environments, both freshwater and marine. I want to understand how they thrive in an environment so fundamentally different than ours and yet they play a very vital role in sustaining our well-being (for example, most of the oxygen we breathe is produced by aquatic organisms). Meanwhile, many human activities are increasingly damaging the aquatic environments, therefore I also want to use my knowledge to help change that.

RockyShoreGreenAlgae_Large
Rocky shore covered in green algae – an oxygen-producing aquatic organism.

Why did you choose this as a profession?

When I was young I was more into literature, art and philosophy, but I grew up in a time and place where boys were expected to pursue ‘hard subjects’ such as science and engineering, whereas girls were expected to pursue ‘soft subjects’ such as arts and music. This is how I got into science. I however did not regret the path I took because the more I study science the more I appreciate how it opens my mind and satisfies my curiosity about the world.

Scientific research is full of challenges; can you share some of your biggest challenges, and how you overcame them?

While I won’t say it is the biggest challenge, but a common one is when an experiment fails or the outcome contradicts expectation. This actually happens quite often in research. When it happens, it is very tempting to ignore the fact and continue to blindly embrace our own belief. However, a very fundamental tenet in science is that we build our knowledge on facts, not faith. Therefore, when my experiment fails or when my expectation doesn’t pan out, I must remain honest and objective, and carefully evaluate the process and re-examine my assumptions. The process may be slow, even painful, but this is how I eventually overcome failures.

Taking measurements in Lake Hallwil, Switzerland
Taking measurements in Lake Hallwil, Switzerland.

How would you define success as a scientific researcher for you personally?

To me a successful scientific researcher is someone who holds him/herself to a high ethical standard and contributes to human’s understanding of the universe.

What excites you about your current projects?

One of the topics I am working on is active methane production in oxic water. I find it exciting because it forces us to question the paradigm on methane production (that it cannot occur in oxic water), and it is also highly relevant to climate change because methane is a very powerful greenhouse gas.

What advice, that has impacted your career, would you like to share with any scientists reading this?

Be honest, be objective, be humble, be open minded.

If another scientist wanted to collaborate with you, what is the best way for them to connect with you?

Most of the times they contact me by email (k.w.tang@swansea.ac.uk). People in the research community all in all welcome collaboration.

Many thanks to Kam for taking time out of his busy schedule to be interviewed. I think it’s great to see how science grew on you and enabled you to feed your curiosity about the world around you! Experiments not going to plan is something we all have to deal with, and I love the simple and succinct advice; “Be honest, be objective, be humble, be open minded”.

Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to read this. How have you had to remain objective, and open-minded when experiments have failed? Tell us your experiences in the comments below. Don’t forget to share and subscribe so you don’t miss next week’s interview with Dr Aldina Franco.

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