“I love the moment when you have all the data together, you plot it on a graph and suddenly you’re looking at a totally new piece of information that nobody else knows yet”
I came to Adelaide to do a Bachelor of Science after completing year 12 in 2008 in NSW. Staying in a residential college was a great way to make new friends in a new city – and to meet my husband to be! My first taste of real research was an honours project sequencing some genes in a group of frogs to put together their family tree. In doing so I managed to show that several of them were new species, so my first ever published paper was the description of a new miniature frog species, which we called Choerophryne gracilirostris.
I have been lucky enough to have my PhD research supported by a scholarship from the Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre and a grant from the Foundation for Rabbit Free Australia. I’m especially interested in the ways we can use genetics to make better conservation decisions, so I end up floating between the ecologists and geneticists at the university a lot. I get the best of both worlds with a mixture of field work, laboratory experiments and computer analysis, every day is different. One of the best moments so far was following my nose to find a maggoty rabbit carcass hidden halfway down a rabbit warren, which turned out to have died from a new strain of virus – a disgusting but satisfying discovery!
When I’m not researching rabbit genetics I enjoy designing and sewing bespoke costumes, reading novels and playing all kinds of games.
What do you love about science?
I love the moment when you have all the data together, you plot it on a graph and suddenly you’re looking at a totally new piece of information that nobody else knows yet – and that information is helping to make the world a better place.
What has been the biggest challenge of your studies so far?
Networking. It’s critically important, but I am just so shy! I’ve found that big conference dinners don’t work for me, but instead I enjoy getting to know other scientists in smaller groups at workshops for learning new skills, or just chatting to someone near me in the lab.
What tips would you give to high school students wanting to study your degree in the future?
The basic Bachelor of Science gives you a lot of flexibility to try different subjects at the start and figure out what you enjoy most. If there’s a subject you really want but are not eligible for, just ask! My two best subjects were ones I didn’t have the prerequisites for.
What do you see as the biggest obstacle to you growing a career in STEMM?
Working hours. Everyone around me seems driven to work 10 hour days, 6 days a week, but I want to keep my hobbies and spend time starting a family. I am determined to succeed as a research scientist without letting the work take over my life.
What do you think the next generation of female scientists can look forward to?
In undergraduate and postgraduate studies, women are outnumbering men in biology – give us a few more years and we’ll graduate and permeate the higher levels too!
[Image attribution: Pablo Garcia Diaz]