Make more scientists better listeners – Meet Lindsay Todman

ProfileLindsayDr Lindsay Todman (@LindsayTodman) is a post-doctoral systems modeller at Rothamsted Research, an agricultural research institute in Harpenden. In her work she is using mathematical modelling to develop metrics of soil resilience, helping to quantify the important role that soils play in buffering agriculture from climatic changes. Catch Lindsay on her Soapbox on Saturday 28th May in London where she will be discussing ‘Creative maths – a tool for managing our fields’.


SS: Lindsay, how did you get to your current position?

LT: I got to where I am after a series of previously unplanned side steps! I took mechanical engineering at uni mainly because I was good at maths but also wanted the chance to build stuff in the workshop. While I was there I enjoyed the courses on fluid flow the most, so after my undergrad I continued studying the flow of one particular fluid (water), taking an MSc in hydrology at Imperial College London. The plan was always to work as a hydrologist when I finished, but during the year one of my lecturers approached me and asked if I was interested in applying for a PhD. The subject caught my interest, so I took a PhD. After my PhD one part of my decision was easy, I knew I enjoyed research and wanted to continue in it. But I also wanted to broaden my perspective by working on a new topic so I found a postdoc position at Rothamsted Research. The project I’m working on is looking at the resilience of soil microbial communities to drought and rewetting, so it has once again stretched my knowledge in another direction whilst building on my skills in applied maths.


SS: What, or who, inspired you to get a career in science?

LT: Mainly my parents, in fact what I do is pretty much a combination of the jobs they were doing when I was younger (a farmer and computer scientist). Of course, there have been nudges along the way that have pushed me in this direction. Most notably after finishing my MSc I had an offer for a job and a PhD and was struggling to decide between the two. Talking to a friend of mine, I admitted that the main reason I was uncertain about doing a PhD was because I thought there were other people who could do the project better than me. He just asked me whether any of those people were planning on doing it.


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

LT: I think it’s fascinating that we live within such a complex environment, in which the interactions of individuals (humans, animals, plants) are so interdependent. I find the complexity awe inspiring, but it also means that human actions can have unintended negative consequences that are challenging to identify or address before they happen, but we can (and should) try!


SS: What attracted you to Soapbox Science in the first place?

LT: I remember going to Speaker’s corner in Hyde Park as a teenager and really enjoying the atmosphere and involvement of the crowd, so I thought it would be a fun, if somewhat scary, way to share my research.


SS: Sum up in one word your expectations for the day – excitement? Fear? Thrill? Anticipation?

LT: Terrified (but excited)


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

LT: I would make more scientists better listeners.  By that I mean better at putting aside their own agendas so that they can hear what others have to say and setting aside time to really discuss and understand it. So many scientific challenges fall in between disciplines and will need scientists to work together (and I mean really work together) to make progress because exciting new ideas come when people from different perspectives take time to listen and understand.


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

LT: Have confidence in your ability and in the fact that only you will do your research in the way you do because of the unique perspective that you bring to it. Seek out influences that broaden your perspective, by working with new people or learning new skills.


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