STEMM PROFILE: Dr Jodie Rummer | Assistant Professor, ARC DECRA Fellow | James Cook University | Townsville | VIC

Dr Jodie Rummer [Image: S. Needham]
“…in this field, we have to be prepared for rejection because there is a lot of it. Laughing about the ridiculous ones with your colleagues helps as well… We all get rejected… it’s how we deal with it (and rather use it to our advantage) that matters the most”

Dr Jodie Rummer is an Assistant Professor and Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Early Career Researcher Award Fellow at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University (JCU). Jodie is also a 2015-2016 recipient of the highly prestigious UNESCO-L’Oréal Women in Science Fellowship for Australia and New Zealand.

Jodie’s background is in marine biology and comparative physiology. Her academic training started in the U.S. (BSc and MSc), took her to Canada (PhD, University of British Columbia), and then to Hong Kong for a short post-doc before she joined JCU. Jodie has done extensive research on fish buoyancy, exercise, and how fish cope with environmental stress, and although early in her career, Jodie has already become a leading authority on the evolution of oxygen transport in fish and how performance is maintained during stress. Today, Jodie’s research group and her post-graduate students combine ecology, evolution, and physiology to address issues important to conservation, such as the effects of climate change and other human-caused problems on coral reef fishes, sharks, and rays and the potential for adaptation.

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Jodie has done extensive research on fish buoyancy and how they cope with environmental stress [Image: L. Thiault]
Beyond her own research, Jodie mentors several post-doctoral fellows at JCU, currently advises seven post-graduate students, and serves on many committees locally and internationally. Jodie is also an Academic Editor for PLoS One and on the Editorial Board for Conservation Physiology.

Jodie also champions for issues that women and other minorities face in the STEM fields. She was Editorial Advisor (and authored three chapters) for “Success Strategies from Women in STEM” (2015, Elsevier). Jodie also emphasizes in her work the importance of leadership, being a good role model, and communication – especially with young girls and minorities wanting to pursue careers in science/STEM fields. A career highlight has been her TEDx talk, “Athletes of the Great Barrier Reef”. She also uses social media to communicate scientific findings, highlight fellow scientists’ success stories and achievements, and to and advocate for issues related to women in science, gender balance, and diversity in STEM.

Find out about Jodie’s research and her lab here. Jodie is also on social media where you will find her talking about fish, sharks, physiology, coral reefs, conservation, climate change, and women in science.

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Jodie’s research includes both field and laboratory-based work [Image: S. Needham]
Do you set boundaries? If yes, which is the most important one? What is your ideal holiday – and do you work on your holiday?

Yes I set boundaries. In my life, there must be some separation between work and home. Surprising to most, I do not have a “home office” or even a desk at home where I work. I think that would encourage me to bring work home more often than necessary. If I need to put in some extra time on a manuscript, grant, student’s thesis revisions, etc., I’ll stay at work to do it. That way I can remain focussed and do not take away time from my wife and our hobbies. Plus, I have a really nice office and workspace AT WORK. I also keep things like Facebook just for friends, family, and funny cat videos; whereas, I use Twitter quite extensively for my work, research, communicating science, and professional development. In this day, with so many social media platforms, it is easy to get overwhelmed and boundaries become lost. This helps me quite a bit.

I work very hard, but I also play very hard too. Our (my wife and I) holidays are epic, and I very much look forward to them and aim to disconnect from work as much as possible during my holiday time. Auto-reply emails and designating my tech or a more senior post-graduate student to handle lab emergencies tremendously helps with this. Our holidays usually consist of outdoor adventures, some adrenaline-fuelled activity like rock climbing, snow-boarding, hiking, kayaking, maybe some camping, beautiful lunches and dinners with gorgeous wines and perhaps tours of vineyards and wineries. Sometimes we meet up with family, but most often it’s just the two of us. We haven’t done as many scuba diving holidays as people might think because I’m underwater for a lot of my work, but we do enjoy the underwater life as much as the terrestrial life. Speaking of terrestrial life, one of our favourite holidays so far has been a 5 week trip to South Africa/Namibia for our 10-year anniversary in 2014. We did some climbing, lots of hiking, and spent tonnes of time watching and photographing wildlife in Kruger and Etosha National Parks. We loved it so much that we are going back to South Africa this year – this time, the Kalahari.

What inspired you to science? Have you always liked science? What do you love most about science?

When I realized that I could make a career out of combining both my curiosity for the natural world (especially the underwater world) and my drive to understand how things work (such as math problems, physiological systems, blood flow, muscles, etc.), I went for it. Most of the time my curiosity for nature and how things work is to my benefit in terms of opportunities, findings, discoveries, relationships, and connections with people and animals. However, sometimes it’s to my detriment because I get very excited about a lot of things all at once, and at the end of the day I’m still only one person. It can really turn into a juggling game in a lot of cases. Having to focus is really hard. But I think one of the best parts of my job is having a fantastic team, which allows me to still be excited about a million different things, but I don’t have to worry about trying to do them all myself. We can all work together to ask and answer some of these really interesting and important questions about our natural world in ways I’d never be able to do alone. 

I have always liked science, but I was not always encouraged to be a scientist. In fact, one of the funniest stories I tell is how I was placed in remedial science in grade 8 because my grade 7 teacher thought that because I asked so many questions I must be having trouble. One afternoon, she told our class that we had better study our text books for the upcoming exam unless we thought we could put our books under our pillows and learn by osmosis. I raised my hand and immediately challenged that posit; unless the material was dissolved in water, by definition, that wouldn’t really work. I don’t think that went over well with her.

How do we keep more females engaged in scientific careers? How do we retain women?

Role models. Period. And, they need to be accessible at all levels. In essence, we need to do exactly as you’re doing with this project (and more!) — highlight successful women from an array of experiences and fields, and discuss with them their accomplisments and challenges. We can be inspired by each other and learn from one another too!

School children, high school students, and young adults just starting university need to know about the successful females in the traditionally male-dominated careers, such as the STEM fields. I didn’t really have any obvious role models while growing up that would have lead me to my career choices. But in hindsight I can think of Dian Fossey, Jane Goodall, Sylvia Earle, and Eugenie Clarke as famous and inspiring female biologists, but they were quite alone in their respective fields… some more literally than others. Dian Fossey is even famously quoted saying “I have no friends.” I watched a lot of documentaries about the ocean, a lot of National Geographic explorer, BBC, and the like… scientists fascinated me, but I really didn’t see a lot of women and certainly not to the point where I would think “I could be like her.” It was mostly white men. 

All in all, I think it all still comes down to questions like “What is a scientist?” “What does a scientist look like?” “What does a scientist sound like?” “What is a modern scientist?” And in some cases, it comes down to changing what that means to a lot of people. If there’s a young girl out there who is thinking about becoming a scientist or maybe a university student who is about to finish her PhD, and she can see that I did it, maybe she will think “I can do it too!” or “I want to be like her!” Even if it’s just one person, then that’s a huge win. If we have more diversity in science, we also have more diverse approaches and therefore a greater ability to solve these massive problems that our planet is facing.

In terms of retaining women, we know that the “leaky pipeline” is real, and that we lose a lot of incredible females from STEM fields during the post-doctoral fellow and Assistant Professor career stages. We do not see very many women at the top ranks of their fields, and many reasons have been put forward as contributing to this phenomenon including, but not limited to, family commitments, differential allocation of resources, sex discrimination and innate differences in communication and mentoring styles. Indeed, what it will come down to is changing the system and creating a more inclusive model for advancing (e.g., tenure, promotions, etc.) such that there is space for women to advance at the same rate as their male colleagues. The system will have to change, and both women and men will have to make this happen.

How do you cope with loss or rejection (e.g. rejected papers, non-funded grants, loss of personnel)?

This is a tough one. I would go out on a limb and say that 90% of what we do is rejected in some way. Maybe more? A few months ago, someone (on Twitter?) was talking about the “negative CV” or maybe it was the “reverse CV”… the CV that you would write if you could only include rejections and failures. Instead of your publication list, you’d itemise every rejected manuscript. Instead of your list of grants and fellowships, you’d list (and include the $$ amount) all of the failed proposals. Instead of the list of positions and jobs you’ve had, you’d list all of the positions you applied for but didn’t get. You get the point. Can you imagine how long this CV would be? But where does all of this information go? Is it wasted? No. Grant applications are recycled, fellowship packages are revised and rewritten. Rarely do I open a blank word document and start something from scratch. So, when I find myself upset about a loss or rejection, I think about the next opportunity that is around the corner that the “failed application” has prepared me for. When I do have my successes, I also think about why they must have worked out when they did. It’s easier said than done, but I think that in this field, we have to be prepared for rejection because there is a lot of it. Laughing about the ridiculous ones with your colleagues helps as well, and sometimes pairing that with a cup of coffee or glass of wine is the only thing that helps. We all get rejected… it’s how we deal with it (and rather use it to our advantage) that matters the most.

Connect with Jodie on LinkedIn: Jodie Rummer

Follow Jodie on Twitter: @physiologyfish


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