STEMM Profile: Dr Misty Jenkins | Laboratory Head, Cellular Immunologist | Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research | Melbourne | VIC

Misty in lab JAN 2016
Dr Misty Jenkins [Image: PeterMac]

“I love the discovery, I love the creativity of brainstorming a problem, and designing an approach to tackle it. Science is all around us, and is just about making observations and interpretations. How could you not love that?”

Dr Misty Jenkins is a Laboratory Head and cellular immunologist at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute. Misty has had a long standing interest in cytotoxic lymphocyte biology and has spent the past ten years investigating how killer lymphocytes acquire the ability to kill cancer cells, and how they deliver the lethal hit. After a successful PhD with Nobel Laureate Prof Peter Doherty and Prof Steve Turner at the University of Melbourne, she began her postdoctoral position with Professor Gillian Griffiths at The University of Oxford, before the lab relocated to the Cambridge Institute of Medical Research, UK. Misty was awarded a CJ Martin Biomedical Fellowship (NHMRC) and RG Menzies Fellowship for her postdoctoral training and was appointed a Fellow of The University of Cambridge, where she lived for 4 years.

Misty is funded by a New Investigator project grant from NHMRC, and a prestigious Career Development Award fellowship from the NHMRC, where she is investigating cancer and inflammation. She has been awarded 15 awards for her work, including the L’oreal for Women in Science Fellowship for Australia (2013), a prestigious career development award from Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and was the 2012 National Association of Research Fellows ‘Investigator of the year’ for Australia. Recently, Misty has been awarded the Tall Poppy of the year award for 2015. In addition to her research career, Misty is a passionate and engaging public speaker about the sciences and raising public awareness of the importance of medical research. She is involved with various programs aimed at increasing young peoples engagement in science and education, particularly indigenous students.  Misty provides leadership on a number of boards including; the board of directors for the Aurora Education Foundation (which supports indigenous students to excel at school and into their university studies); the governing board and scientific advisory panel for the National Centre for Indigenous Genomics (NCIG) at Australian National University in Canberra, and the Federal government’s expert working group for “Indigenous engagement in the sciences” which is helping shape public policy.

What have you learnt during your career to increase your resilience?

To be a scientist, you have to have a thick skin. You are constantly putting yourself out there for criticism. Let’s face it, having critical feedback is the best way to become a better person, and a better scientist. Sharing your ideas and results with others, and receiving critical feedback is essential to move forward. By receiving and taking on board, that valuable piece of critical analysis from a colleague, can lift the impact of your data. The trick is, not to take it personally. Remember that not even the ocean can sink a ship if the water doesn’t get inside. Don’t let criticism get under your skin, but learn to embrace it and thrive on it. It’s the best way to grow.

Do you have a mentor? What is the most important advice they have given you?

I am a huge supporter of a having excellent mentoring in your career. I have many mentors who have all helped shaped me. My valuable mentors have given me advice such as: “Misty, life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself” and “Never give up”.  To me, this advice gave me permission to bring my personality into what I do, and to never conform to the dusty stereotype of being a scientist. It’s okay to wear red lipstick and still be a thinking woman.

What are you most proud of in your science career?

I am proud that I have had the opportunity to give back to my community. As a woman who is very proud of her Indigenous heritage, I am proud that I have built a platform with which to show Indigenous students there is a pathway into science, as we need to have an Indigenous voice in the biomedical sciences. This is particularly relevant as we enter the genomic era of sequencing Indigenous genomes. It is critical that Indigenous people have governance and are involved in medical research and I intend to make sure that Indigenous Australia is in control of their own information.

How can we change the scientific work culture to improve work/life balance?

As a scientist and a mum, it is imperative that we have flexibility to meet the demands of juggling a career with a family. A change in culture will come with a deeper understanding that hours in the office do not necessarily equate to productivity. We need to get better at measuring outputs, rather than counting hours in the office. The flexibility of being able to do those extra precious hours at home is essential for me to lead a productive career, but keep a happy and balanced family. Personally, access to teleconferencing facilities and the option of working remotely gives flexibility to be at home with a sick child.

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

We listen when women are at the table (how many times have you been interrupted & talked over by men), we give flexibility in hours worked at the workplace versus in the home, we be more creative when measuring success relative to opportunity (this applies to men too), we provide opportunities to keep in touch with work when away on maternity/carers leave, we provide opportunities to travel to conferences with children, we provide opportunities to be able to come to work with children when on school holidays (applies to men too), providing workplace flexible childcare, we encourage women to apply for promotion and awards (there is a field of literature on the fact that women don’t put themselves forward for this), we mentor young female scientists to create the career they want to have, break down stereotypes, stand tall…. Shall I go on?

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

I have always loved science and was inspired to study science. I was a nerdy child. My friends went to basketball, and I trained at St John Ambulance at a young age. I love the discovery, I love the creativity of brainstorming a problem, and designing an approach to tackle it. Science is all around us, and is just about making observations and interpretations. How could you not love that?

What is your ideal holiday and do you work on holiday?

I don’t get to holiday enough, so when I do, it’s very relaxing, on a hot beach with my family, with no work and time to fill the batteries. This is very important for your mental health. We all work very hard during the year, so when you go on holiday, take it at time of year you don’t have deadlines, turn your email to ‘out of office’ and relax. You will find that if you do this, you’ll come back with increased vigour!

Follow Misty on Twitter: @DrMistyJenkins

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