24/7 VALENCIA: Tell us something about your background and upbringing…
STUART ATKINSON: I was brought up in Lanark, a sleepy little town in central Scotland, before moving on to Glasgow to study and gain my Ph.D. in cancer research. Glasgow may have a reputation for being a rather stark place with a rough character, but it is a fantastic place to live and study (and drink and eat!) and it will always remain close to my heart.
From there I moved on to Newcastle, where I started to study human stem cells, and how we can use them as a treatment for blindness, diabetes, and Parkinson’s disease, to name but a few. After a few years, our laboratories needed refurbishing and we moved to Valencia to work for a year. For me, that one year turned into ten and counting!
Describe a typical week for you as a scientist in Valencia.
While my long days in the laboratory staring down microscopes and looking after endless millions of cells are over, I still am heavily invested in the sciences. My work is currently shared between the Centro de Investigación Príncipe Felipe, where I work as a project manager, and at home, where I work as a writer and editor for websites and journals working in the stem cell field.
Every day throws up a new study, a new finding, a new advance, and something new to learn, so the work is never boring. I also love the flexible nature of the job, which means I can get out and enjoy all that Valencia has to offer.
How does living in Spain compare to Scotland?
I think these comparisons are always difficult to make… the obvious difference is, of course, the weather, which in Valencia means that you have so much more time to get out and do something without the worry of frostbite! However, I do love Spain and Scotland for completely different reasons, and it would be easy to repeat the list of common complaints. But then I remember that I love it here and have no intention to leave any time soon. For every disadvantage Spain has compared to Scotland, I can always see multiple advantages to balance things out, such as the excellent wine, the cheap cost of living, and numerous picturesque pueblos ready for exploration.
Do you see a similarity with Scotland and Catalonia in their fight for independence?
The Catalans and the Scots share many key aspects; we are both hard-working people who are proud of their history and separate identities and are (apparently) both very ‘safe’ with our pennies!
I understand the desire for independence and I can see where the anti-Spanish and anti-English sentiment arises from, but I truly believe that we need to be tearing down barriers and not building new ones. While my mother is Scottish, my father is English, and perhaps this gives me a different view on the matter (also my father told me not to come back home if I had voted ‘Yes to Independence’, ha-ha!).
Tell us about your outdoor activities in the Valencia Region. Are there any routes you would recommend for hikers and cyclists?
One of the great things about Valencia is the wide range of outdoor activities that are right on your doorstep. Any given weekend you can choose between cycling (the Los Ojos Negroes route between Caudiel and Soneja is my favourite), hiking (over the Roman aqueduct between Calles and Chelva is stunning), canyoning (Montanejos), running (through the Turia riverbed is always fun), or rafting (Las Hoces del Cabriel). Also, while there are plenty of beach-related activities, snowboarding and skiing are also within easy reach in Valdelinares and Javalambre.
We all have the honour to live in such a beautiful place with stunning scenery; it would be a shame not to get out there and enjoy it!
Describe for us what the ‘Portland Ale House’ means to you.
The Portland is probably one of the main reasons why I stayed in Valencia. After being introduced by a good friend (Lou King, it’s all your fault!), it soon became my second home and I’ve made many good friends who have become my family: an important thing for expats.
The homebrew is fantastic, the burgers are the best around, but it’s the staff, and especially Maurice, the owner and master brewer, that give the place that special something. I have lost count of the amount of amazing parties we have had for birthdays, Christmas, Thanksgiving, and of course, my favourite, Halloween! I’ve also been helping to run the Pub Quiz there for a few years now, and we are always looking for more teams to come and enjoy themselves on a Sunday night!
Interview by 24/7 Valencia team