David, Clinical Partnerships

The Tearaway

An Interview with Director of Complex Diseases in Clinical Partnerships, David Kavanagh, by Eimear Doyle.

Having it every-which-way: Part-time farmer/ Full- time scientist, David talks with me about start-ups, air-miles, science, transience, and goats, of course!

David, what made you want to work in science?

My parents would say I was always asking questions…Why? Why? Why? I was a “tearaway” in school…really! But I was always good at biology, had a great teacher, so I gravitated towards it.

First year General Science was tough though as I hadn’t had the opportunity to study physics and chemistry for the Leaving Cert–I did a Biochemistry undergrad in UCC, then a PhD in biochemistry -cardiovascular research. It was cell level work, lab work in UCD, so I moved up to the big smoke.

What is your special work arrangement with GMI?

I have always been slightly transient, working here, home elsewhere…

GMI is a great company. I can enjoy flexibility, lifestylewise, and I need that as I’ve an interesting work / life set up. My wife is a school principal in Killarney and we have a farm – cows, goats — a weekend job. Farm animals look after themselves! Right??

It’s an interesting blend of two worlds that are very different – GMI at the cutting edge of research: exciting, great team and intellectually very stimulating; and living on a farm in the country side – the polar opposite, but a great escape. If I gave up one or the other, I would miss it.

How did you find the move from academia to a more commercial setting?

I had a start up idea that came out of my PhD – a search engine for a research product– and I built a team around it. It started in UCD, then went on to the NDRC (Accelerator programme).

After three years I sold the business and worked for the company that acquired it – in The States and in Sri Lanka. It was a great journey, as I saw the business side of science, made loads of mistakes, and learned a lot personally.

Before I joined GMI, I was working with an Irish business services consultancy team in the area of American healthcare. Which was also great learning and experience. After two years, I was keen to get back into a science and start-up atmosphere.

What led you to GMI?

I encountered GMI in UCD. I met Maurice and knew Sean was involved, and I had met Dan through NDRC. We started having some discussions and was really excited about the potential of what the guys were trying to achieve.

When you take on a new role, there are key things that are important to think about: Will this job fulfil me? Does it excite me? Does it present challenges that are worth solving? GMI ticked these boxes straight away. But could I afford to take the financial risk? Was it secure enough to join an early stage company… Step out of a permanent job that was well paid? At a certain age, it takes some time to get comfortable with that. But it felt right and that’s how it played out.

Day to day?

Our team is responsible for starting the collaborations, setting up the relationships, discussions with the doctors.

Our job is to take that study, designed as a national programme and excite people about it. The doctors have to be excited, which is a huge focus, but, equally, the participants need to be excited. It’s our job to get those studies up and running.

Best thing about the job?

Science is amazing, day-to-day it’s a really fun team to work with, a great sense of growth and fun.

Biggest challenge?

I’m impatient and direct. I get easily frustrated if I feel that we’re not making significant progress…it gets to me. Managing that is a challenge. We’re a growing organisation and not every growing organisation is figured out – and this has to be kept in perspective.

In another life, what would you be doing and why?

A farmer – I have the best of both worlds. I also play music, the guitar …. even did gigs…. But I wouldn’t do it professionally. Science and farming have a lot of things in common. Increasingly agriculture is very scientific. I choose both.

What would you bring to a desert island and why?

Water. A guitar. A book. But is there foliage? Grass?

Grass, yes!

Yes!!! A goat then – endless supply of milk, cheese, and easy enough to manage

How would you describe the culture of GMI?

Very collegial, open minded, inclusive, really energised

If you won the Lotto would you keep your job and why?

Yes – I don’t do the lotto; so I am never going to win it. What about you?

If I won the lotto? I would become a professional swimmer.

Double jobbing??? Weekend farmer/weekday scientist. From Leinster to Munster and back. Finding his groove…..and I have trouble fitting in my swimming sessions!