Jane Memmott is a Professor at the School of Biological Sciences, University of Bristol. Her research interests in ecology include pollination ecology, invasion ecology, agro-ecology, biological control, urban ecology and restoration ecology. Jane will be standing on one of our soapboxes this Sunday, 2-5pm in Bristol, where she’ll talk about birds and bees.
SS: Jane, tell us how you got to your current position
JM: I started rearing caterpillars as a five year old and I’ve simply never stopped being interested in natural history. Aged 52 I’m still collecting caterpillars! And chasing bees, identifying flowers, watching ants, rearing leaf miners and trying to work out how the world works. After A levels I did a degree in Zoology, then a PhD in rain forest ecology, followed by research positions with large overseas components in New Zealand, Australia and Kenya that pandered to love of travel. After 10 years living out of a rucksac, I got a lectureship at Bristol and settled down. The combination of a teaching load and young kids led to me changing tack slightly and starting work on British agroecosystems which led to an interest in pollination and UK conservation. I’m currently head of Biological Sciences at Bristol University, combining this with running a research group and a life out of work that involves a family, a giant greenhouse and regular breaks far from the madding crowd.
SS: What, or who, inspired you to get a career in science?
JM: I think I was born with an interest in natural history, particularly insects, and that has led to everything else. I found some parts of science pretty boring at school but once I got to University I really enjoyed studying invertebrates and anything to do with ecology – and the more I learn, the more interesting it gets.
SS: What is the most fascinating aspect of your research?
JM: The most enjoyable part is running a research group – being surrounded by fellow enthusiasts from all over the world makes mine the best job ever. The most fascinating part is trying to work out the rules that lead to the structure we see in the natural world.
SS: What attracted you to Soapbox Science in the first place?
JM: I’ve given talks at conferences, talks at workshops, talks sat on bales of straw in the middle of field and even talks in pubs (with a live bumble bee colony as a show and tell) but I’ve never given a talk on a soapbox before!
SS: Sum up in one word your expectations for the day – excitement? fear? thrill? anticipation?
JM: I think it will be fun, probably chaotic (in a good way) and with a hoarse voice by then end!
SS: If you could change one thing about the scientific culture right now, what would it be?
JM: Change the pub culture for a coffee shop culture – much more inclusive.
SS: What would be your top recommendation to a female PhD student considering pursuing a career in academia?
JM: Try it! You’ll need persistence, occasionally a thick skin and a bit of luck, but it’s one of the best jobs in the world. And a PhD is an incredibly useful training for many things in life so be open minded to other opportunities too as there are many, many ways of being a scientist.