'I feel lucky. I do not want to waste my opportunity'

August 31, 2007

Andrew Armour is very content. The physics lecturer at Nottingham University has a happy home life and a satisfying career, but there is a lot more to it than that.

"I have no problem that is likely to kill me these days," he explains.

It was a different story ten years ago when life-threatening complications arising from cystic fibrosis forced him to suspend his PhD studies to undergo a triple organ transplant - heart, lung and liver.

The operation was gruelling, but it was such a success that it transformed Dr Armour's life.

Until that point, everything he achieved was always under the cloud of cystic fibrosis - a genetic disease that affects several parts of the body including the lungs, digestive system and, in some cases, the liver.

From an early age through to his first years as a postgraduate, scholarly progress was a "slightly up-and-down business" as symptoms came and went. But they became gradually more frequent and serious. Despite missing a third of his schooling as he underwent hospital treatment, he notched up four A grades at A level and went on to gain a first-class BSc in physics at Nottingham.

His life-changing operation came two years after beginning his PhD studies at Nottingham, which he resumed in the following year and completed one year later. After a brief period as a postdoc at Imperial College London, he returned to Nottingham where he has been a lecturer in the School of Physics and Astronomy since 2002.

A nurse in the cystic fibrosis unit at Nottingham City Hospital was so impressed with Dr Armour's determination to continue his studies that she passed on his story to the Cystic Fibrosis Trust. This year, the trust gave him its Breathing Life Award for Adult Academic Achievement in recognition of his scholarly progress in the face of adversity. He said: "I was overwhelmed. To some extent, I feel very lucky that I have escaped cystic fibrosis and crossed over into a normal life. It was quite an intense experience seeing a lot of other people who won awards and remembering what it was like to be a sufferer. I had friends who died from cystic fibrosis and I feel lucky to have survived."

His life in academia has played a vital role in helping him survive the most difficult times, he said.

"I have always found studying very absorbing - both studying and doing research have been a positive distraction from my illness," he added.

His entry into university life was perhaps inevitable, given the encouragement he received from his father, Edward Armour, a professor of mathematics at Nottingham.

Higher education is sometimes portrayed as being plagued with the stresses and strains of excessive workloads and bullying bosses, but Dr Armour has found his father's advice to be sound. He said: "For me, the university environment was much more flexible than the usual world of work. If I had been in regular employment, I would have had to stop working during the difficult times, and I would not have been in a good situation."

Having come through such a traumatic time, the relatively minor irritations of academic life seem trivial indeed.

Dr Armour said: "My attitude now is to try hard to fulfil my potential as an academic. I am very conscious of the chance I have been given, and I will try very hard not to waste my energy or the opportunity I have."

tony.tysome@thes.co.uk

I graduated from Nottingham University

My first job was as a research associate in the physics department of Imperial College London

My main challenge is to do good research and to come up with an original way of solving problems

What I hate most is administration

In ten years I hope that some of my predictions in physics will have been found to be right and others found to be wrong, so that I have something else to work on!

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