STEMM Profile: Professor Jenny Davis | Freshwater Ecologist | Charles Darwin University | Darwin | NT

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Professor Jenny Davis [Image: Charles Darwin University].

“The current paradigm of using single metrics to rank individual researchers favours a very narrow set of scientific attributes and skills, and often (although not always) these attributes are held more by male than female researchers”

Professor Jenny Davis is Head of the School of Environment at Charles Darwin University. She has a PhD and BSc (Hons) from the University of Tasmania, was a Queens Fellow in Marine Science at the University of Western Australia, and has held academic positions at Murdoch University (WA), Monash University (VIC) and the University of Canberra (ACT).

Jenny is a freshwater ecologist and has undertaken projects on freshwater biodiversity and wetland management across Australia and in Malaysia (Sarawak). She is the custodian of datasets spanning 25+ years for wetlands in central Australia and Western Australia. She is co-chair of INTECOL’s International Wetland Conferences Organising Committee and was the non-government scientist on the WA Wetlands Coordinating Committee for ten years, completed two terms on the WA Conservation Commission (the advisory board of the former Department of Conservation and Land Management) and chaired the Research Sub-Committees of ABRS for six years.

Jenny is a recipient of the Limnology Medal awarded by the Australian Society for Limnology and the Vice-Chancellors Award for Excellence in Postgraduate Supervision at Murdoch University.

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Jenny ‘s researches freshwater biodiversity and wetland management which involves time in the field [Image: Charles Davis].
What do you think is the most important character trait in a successful scientist?

Scientists have to be resilient and persistent. There are lots of ups and downs in a scientific career and you have to be able to cope with the low points as well as enjoy and celebrate your successes. You also have to be able to follow research projects through. It can sometimes take a very long time in ecology (years) from the beginning of an idea or question for a research project to seeing the results published as a scientific paper.

What would you say is your most valuable personal attribute that has helped you succeed?

I remember as a child that my father used to say that I was very stubborn. Although this might not always be perceived as a positive trait, the ability to stick at a project is very important for a research scientist. I am also an optimist. I think this helps enormously to survive the inevitable low points in both research projects and research careers. Looking forwards, not backwards, is probably the most important way of ensuring that you don’t get waylaid by the setbacks that occur.

What are you most proud of in your science career?

I am really proud of my students, both undergraduates and postgraduates. I have supervised over 80 research students, including PhD’s, Masters and Honours students. I always enjoy catching up with former students and hearing what they are doing now. They are all making a positive contribution to whatever sphere they are working in. Sometimes it is closely aligned with their degree and sometimes it is a completely different field.

I am also proud of the contributions that I have made, together with my students and research teams, to environmental management, mainly in Western Australia. I think that our work on nutrient-enriched wetlands on the the Swan Coastal Plain, near Perth, and salinized wetlands in the WA Wheatbelt, has contributed to the understanding needed to achieve better biodiversity outcomes and more strategic conservation actions.

I am hopeful that the work that I am involved with on arid zone aquatic refugia will contribute to the conservation of biodiversity, under a changing climate, across the entire continent.

If you could give one piece of advice to the current government what would it be?

We need multiple and diverse ways of assessing research productivity and impact. The current paradigm of using single metrics to rank individual researchers favours a very narrow set of scientific attributes and skills, and often (although not always) these attributes are held more by male than female researchers.

I have been fortunate to work with some great collaborators, some of whom have provided the ‘glue’ that has kept projects going. However, the ability to work well in a team, or in a supportive capacity, often does not provide individuals with the recognition they deserve, and need, to further their careers.

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

Wherever possible I try to work on projects that I really believe in, and find enjoyable. 
Rejection does hurt and usually slows you down. However, if you are convinced that the project that you are working on is a good one, and the results are important, it makes it easier to survive the low points.

Sometimes I have been involved in projects that are not as personally engaging as I would like. However, if I can find one aspect of the project that does engage me, then I will concentrate on that aspect when I need to get through a difficult time.

I have also learnt that new opportunities do arise. The old cliché that as ‘one door closes, another opens’ holds as true for research setbacks, funding losses, publication rejections and personnel changes, as it does for other aspects of life. Holding onto positive thoughts when things are not going well is part of the belief that scientists need to be incredibly resilient and persistent.

Twitter: @waterpenny10

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