My job is essentially to solve puzzles: meet Jessica Blair

Jess AA pic croppedDr Jessica Blair (@JessicaMABlair) is a research fellow currently at the University of Birmingham.Her research focusses on understanding the molecular mechanisms of antibiotic resistance. Here she tells us that her love of science started with an inspirational teacher and that being a scientist is the best job in the world!

Jess will be speaking at Soapbox science in London on the 30th May.



SS: Jess, how did you get to your current position? What or who inspired you to get a career in science?

JB: As for many people it all started with an inspirational teacher (Mr Beasley, this is all your fault!). His love of biology was infectious and I caught the bug! I went to Oxford to study for a degree in Biological sciences and here my fascination with microbiology and infectious disease really kicked in and was fuelled by a host of wonderful researchers and lecturers. My love of research really started when I did my undergraduate lab project working with the bacteria that causes meningitis. I loved the idea I was doing something that might one day make a difference. I then went on to study for a PhD at the University of Birmingham which was about understanding one of the mechanisms bacteria use to become resistant to antibiotics. I must have loved this because after my PhD I stayed for a further five year post doc and have just been offered funding of my own (a fellowship) to continue working on antibiotic resistance. Being a scientist is the best job in the world; my job is essentially to solve puzzles and I love that!


SS: What is the most fascinating aspect of your research?

JB: Two things:  Antibiotics are truly wonder-drugs and bacteria are ingenious little buggers! Scientists like to think they are pretty clever  and throughout history new drugs have been discovered, introduced to the clinic and been heralded as the new cure all.….but bacteria always find a way to thwart our efforts; resistance has been found to every single antibiotic drug ever discovered. Understanding how bacteria become resistant to antibiotics is a fascinating puzzle. Some of the questions I tried to answer in my PhD are still a mystery to me and figuring this out will probably keep me busy for the rest of my career. What we need to do now is use the antibiotics we already have with care and as scientists we need to try to be smarter and find ways to stop bacteria resisting our wonder-drugs.


SS: What attracted you to soapbox science in the first place?

JB: The opportunity to talk directly  to the public about something I’m fascinated by and to explain why antibiotic resistance is such a big deal and why we should all care because it could profoundly affect each and every one us.


SS: Sum up in one word your expectations for the day

JB: Excitement! (Or Terror, I can’t decide which!)


SS: If you could change one thing about the scientific culture right now what would it be?

JB: The idea that if you don’t move around different academic institutions that you can’t be a successful independent scientist. This used to be the norm but hugely disadvantages those with families or in relationships with two careers, which means moving around is not straightforward. The idea is also outdated as the internet allows sharing of ideas, expertise and information around the world in real time. Thankfully attitudes are changing but there is a long way to go.


SS: What would be your top recommendation to a female PhD student considering pursuing a career in academia?

JB: Find a subject you love and that you are truly passionate about – a career in academia is very hard work and if you love what you do it will make it much easier.

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