STEMM Profile: Professor Karen Gibb | Environmental Microbiologist | Charles Darwin University | Darwin | NT

Karen Gibb_NT
Professor Karen Gibb [Image: Charles Darwin University]

“… I immediately suggest ways we can recover and try to show by example that a rejection is not the end of the world. Acting that out is a quick road to recovery”

Professor Karen Gibb is an environmental microbiologist with 28 years research experience. She leads the Environmental Chemistry and Microbiology Unit (ECMU) which is a research and commercial unit in the School of Environment at Charles Darwin University. The ECMU has research strengths in determining the source of contaminants and interpreting changes in marine, estuarine and aquatic environments. ECMU’s research has supported important improvements in the methodologies and policies that underpin the sustainable management of marine, estuarine and aquatic systems across northern Australia.

Government now mandates some of the methodologies developed by ECMU for environmental monitoring. The core research strengths of the ECMU are: 1) the use of trace-metal and nutrient data combined with stable isotope data to determine the source of industrial and urban contaminants in tropical marine and terrestrial environments, and 2) molecular and environmental microbiology and genomics to track the sources of biological contaminants in tropical aquatic environments.

Professor Gibb has published 120 journal articles over the last 10 years and in 2006 she was awarded, with two colleagues, the Northern Territory Research and Innovation Tropical Knowledge Award for research.

What do you believe are the greatest attributes of a successful leader? 


The greatest attribute of a successful leader is to be able to step outside your own needs or responses to different situations, try to see why things are unfolding the way they are, and to approach resolution systematically and effectively.

What is the one piece of advice you would give to women just starting their careers in science? 


Be quite strategic about return for effort. For example, connecting with people is a good thing but sometimes it’s also OK to keep a communication simple and suggest a way forward with options instead of a thorough examination of all the pros and cons and several meetings. It’s good to be clear and speak with authority when it’s justified.

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


I like the creativity in science. I think people outside science think we work by formula and have limited capacity to interpret quantitative data. But it is a hugely creative process and the more experienced I get, the more I strive to make publications tell a great story – i.e. be as accessible as possible.

How do you cope with self-doubt? How do you cope with imposter syndrome? 


I struggle with this but I’ve come to see it as part of that ‘burr under the saddle’ that makes me keep striving to do things better. I can tell myself I’ve never outright failed so why worry – but it is something that follows me around. Even from my Honours and PhD days, I did notice some peers never really showed signs of self-doubt. I always wondered if they were clueless or just hid it well. I think it’s here to stay for most of us – but good not to indulge it.

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


Not well, however I don’t like to openly indulge in obvious feelings of rejection because I think it adversely affects the people in my group. I think it looks pretty needy so I immediately suggest ways we can recover and try to show by example that a rejection is not the end of the world. Acting that out is a quick road to recovery.


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