STEMM PROFILE: Dr Jen Wood, PhD | Microbial Ecology | La Trobe University | Melbourne | VIC

3 Minute Thesis (3MT) final.
Jen Wood

“Say ‘Yes’ when opportunity comes along, even if you can’t see how it benefits you immediately”

I like to tell people that ‘under our feet there is a whole other universe’. Exploring and understanding the ecology of this ‘other universe’, also known as the soil microbiome, is what drives my research passion. I believe the soil still holds secrets that can contribute to global sustainability. In particular I am interested in the contribution of the soil microbiome to the plant-based-bioremediation of anthropogenic pollution (particularly heavy metals) and to sustainable agricultural practices. Ultimately I am interested in understanding how soil microbial communities promote plant-growth and what drives them to do so. With this information we can utilize soil microbial communities to improve both agriculture and bioremediation.

Throughout my PhD, my passion for my research has become entwined with my passion for science communication (SciComm) and gender equality and my efforts culminated my being nominated for a 2016 Victorian Young achievers award.

My passion for SciComm has seen me embrace every opportunity to talk science at the world, including national and international conferences. But my favourite kind of SciComm is with non-specialist audiences; there is nothing more satisfying than imbuing a non-specialist audience with a sense of excitement about what science can do.

Highlights of this ilk have been competing at the national 3minute thesis finals and being involved in science outreach programs to rural areas. One of my proudest achievements has been co-founding the Supporting Women In ScienceSupporting Women In Science (SWIS) society to promote gender equity at my institution.

But mostly, I am just a science nerd who loves science.

Jen - taken by Adam Wood (1)
Jen is an avid SciCommer!

What is it you love about science?

I love the problem solving, the connecting the dots. I love that science encourages us to engage with and unravel the secrets of our physical and natural world. A sense of wonder in the everyday.

Do you experience `imposter syndrome’? How do you deal with it?

I’m sure everyone does. The tragedy is when it holds you back. I say embrace the imposter-syndrome-feeling, it is what lets us know we can learn something from the people we are surrounded by: “If you are the smartest person in the room, you are in the wrong room”. 

What do you see as the biggest obstacle to you growing a career in STEMM?

My desire for a family. It makes me angry that this should be an obstacle.

What advice have you been given that has best helped you grow as a scientist?

Say ‘Yes’ when opportunity comes along, even if you can’t see how it benefits you immediately. Too often people say “That looks interesting but I’m too busy” or “I need to focus on my writing”. The former is true of everyone and time can be made for writing. Seize opportunity.

What attracted you to your chosen field of study?

What really excites me about microbial ecology is that it’s a new frontier. We’ve known about microbes for over a century but the ability to look at microbial communities the way I’m doing in my research, has only been around for ten years; just a tiny blip in science terms.

Follow Jen on Twitter: @JW_ilikedirt

[Image attributions: Tess Flynn and Adam Wood]

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