Meet Professor James Ebdon

I am an Environmental Microbiologist interested in the role of water in the spread and control of water-related diseases. I’m particularly interested in how we can protect human health and aquatic environments.

What drew you to teaching your subject?

I first became interested in water pollution during my undergraduate degree at the University of Brighton, nearly 30 years ago. I was fortunate to be taught by an inspirational lecturer (Prof Huw Taylor) who got us investigating the impact of agriculture on local river water quality. This involved fieldwork at a nearby agricultural college and laboratory testing back on campus. From this moment I never looked back, and to this day I thoroughly enjoy the combination of fieldwork and lab-work. Only now I get to lead fieldwork activities and lecture about the joys of conducting environmental research in a range of challenging settings. 

How do you combine teaching with your professional life/work in the field?

Throughout my teaching career I have been heavily involved with international research projects, conducting fieldwork in Malawi, India, Nepal, Brazil, Vietnam, and Hawaii (funded by UNICEF, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, British Council). This has allowed me to bring in contemporary, real-world case material into my teaching on modules such as Global Environmental Challenges, Water, Sanitation and Health and to develop dissertations with my students focussed on addressing pressing environmental challenges. This way students get to engage with and benefit from cutting-edge applied research, long before it has even been reported in leading international scientific journals.   

How does you work relate to the addressing of global challenges?

Access to safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene is the most basic human need for health and well-being, yet it is one that still needlessly claims the lives of an estimated 829,000 people every year. My research and teaching focusses on understanding how microbes such as bacteria and viruses behave in the environment and risks to human health are assessed. Understanding water-related disease transmission pathways is key to protecting human health, particularly in low-income settings.

What do you love about teaching?

What I particularly love about teaching is seeing students gain in confidence as their understanding of key environmental concepts and topics comes into focus. This is particularly apparent during the international undergraduate fieldtrip I lead, which develops important skills via independent, student-led project activities. These have included coastal water quality monitoring, vegetation surveying, microplastic investigations and geological mapping projects.

What advice would you give prospective students?

One thing I have learnt from being both a former undergraduate student myself and a university lecturer for the past 16 years is that students shouldn’t worry too early on in their degrees about exactly what direction to take their studies in. Many students arrive with a fixed idea of what they think they will enjoy or should focus on and end up taking their studies (and careers) in very different and exciting directions.

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