DHM

A Conversation with James Harrison | See previous interviews

James Harrison, MPH, PhD
Senior Research Specialist

James Harrison

Where you are in the family hierarchy and what kind of teenager were you?

I am the oldest son, there is only my sister and me. My sister doesn’t live far from my parents in London. Even to this day, whenever they do something for her, they do something for me. My friends laugh because I still get care packages wherever I am in the world. I guess I was a pretty regular teenager, not too “out there,” probably moody at times, but don’t think I caused too much grief.

What are some of the family traditions that you’ve carried with you?

I would say bringing people together, dinner parties, drinks, and social events. My mum always had family and friends together for dinner and tea and that’s something that I like to do at home or out and about, and have taken wherever I am. Other than drinking tea first thing in the morning and last thing at night, we’re not too ritualistic but always drink a certain brand of tea, from Marks and Spencer, a well-known English department store. That’s where she gets the tea for my care packages.

Have you acclimated to San Francisco since moving from Sydney or are there still “OMG” moments?

My accent still probably doesn’t get understood properly but that’s fine, I take it in stride now. I think I’ve worked out what it is: when people hear my accent, they focus on it sounding different instead of listening to what I am saying. It is especially noticeable in restaurants or drinking establishments; I’ve certainly got meals and drinks that I didn’t order. When I first tried to set up my bank or other accounts over the phone, the instructions asked me to key in the details followed by the pound sign. I had no idea what a pound sign was because in Australia and England it is called the hash sign. I basically couldn’t get through to talk to anyone on the phone! Another classic anecdote was when I went to the post office and asked for stamps and was politely told that they did not sell lamps. But, for the most part, the OMG moments have passed.

So English really is a second language! Have you ever eaten tucker such as pattycake with paw-paw, rockmelon, and sultanas with a chaser of ice lolly? (Reference: http://www.statsci.org/smyth/ozus.html)

I don’t know what a pattycake is but I’ve eaten the rest! Growing up in the London and then spending more than 13 years in Sydney, there was a huge mixture of influences that have heavily influenced my language skills and who I am. In the UK and Australia, there were strong historical and cultural ties so many things were similar. Now, being here in America, it is an amusing learning curve, exciting, overwhelming, crazy, and sometimes frustrating. But I’m enjoying the learning curve immensely.

How would you describe your sense of humor? Prankster or stand-up?

I am not a prankster. I don’t play pranks because I don’t want them done to me (to other people, maybe). I like to think that I’m more witty than funny.

According to your CV, you taught aspects of research study design in Sydney. Do you miss teaching?

Initially it terrified me because it was a bit out of my comfort zone. More formal teaching came more towards the end of my time in Sydney but I much preferred working with people one-on-one or in small groups. I am doing that still, when we talk about projects and study designs for the work we’re doing here. I think I’m good with people. In the type of collaboration we have here, research is highly valued and we, clinicians and me, bring good stuff to the table. I can’t do some things without my clinical collaborators and I can help make research less scary for them. It’s a two-way street and that’s what I enjoy.

Where have you traveled in the US and what iconic places do you wish to visit?

I’ve only been to a few places in California since being here: Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, where, I must say, it was so much warmer compared to here! And I really felt that I was in California down there, seeing very iconic images of the old diners and, of course, palm trees. That’s when I had a moment of realization that, “I live here!” I thought Hollywood would be more glamorous than it was. Soon I’ll be visiting Washington, DC, and Chicago, and a few other places over the summer.

Do you prefer socializing at home or going out? Are you a good cook?

I do like going out to restaurants but I do like cooking at home, too, and I am a good cook. Generally, I cook at home during the week. Interestingly, in Sydney, I would never cook Asian food because it is huge, it’s everywhere whereas here there is much more Hispanic food so I am starting to cook more Asian food at home now.

Do you plan things to the nth degree or do you prefer to be spontaneous?

I plan but surround myself with spontaneous people. I like when things are in order even if they do not seem to be that way, like my office desk!

This was fun. Thank you, James.

- by Oralia Schatzman

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