Against all odds, into science: Meet Anna-Maria Getoš Kalac

Prof. Dr. Anna-Maria Getoš Kalac, University of Zagreb – Faculty of Law; Max Planck Partner Group for Balkan Criminology, is taking part in Soapbox Science Munich on 7th July with her talk: “Violence Research Lab; Gewaltforschungslabor”

 

 

 

SS: Why did you choose a scientific career?

AMGK: I would not say that I planned or even deliberately picked a scientific career. It was more the other way around. Science somehow chose me. I always knew exactly what I did not want: a career as a female crime investigator in the Croatian police, after finishing my criminalistics studies, or a career in the Ministry of science and education… Out of this “avoiding” of my “don’t wants” I slipped, really by chance and against all odds, into science. After graduating in Croatia I got a scholarship and enrolled in a master study program in Germany. I was really good at it, I mean really good, and excelled at all tasks. One thing lead to another, and a few years later I got my PhD, was already heavily involved in teaching at my law faculty in Croatia, while doing research at the Max Planck Institute for Foreign and International Criminal Law in Freiburg.

 

SS: How did you get your current position?

AMGK: My current position as Head of the Max Planck Partner Group for “Balkan Criminology” I got, again, by avoiding what I did not want. And that was to limit myself to teaching and sporadic mediocre research at my “academic home” at the Zagreb Law Faculty. After having obtained my PhD and a couple of months resting from this exhausting and seemingly never-ending mega-task, I felt somehow empty and in search of a “meaningful scientific occupation”. I actually missed my PhD project, or better to say the scientific challenge it posed and all good and bad that comes with it. Discussing this “emptiness” during one of my brief “scientific wellness holidays” at my “scientific home”, the Max Planck Institute for Foreign and International Criminal Law in Freiburg, with my PhD mentor Prof. Dr. Albrecht, we decided to apply for a Max Planck Society funded own research group for me, that would enable us to “build up” criminology in Croatia and the whole of Southeast Europe. I was basically frustrated that there was no one at my “academic home” in Zagreb and only a hand full of people in my whole region, whom I could jointly work with and conduct criminological research. Instead of settling with this situation or moving abroad into a more appealing research setting, I chose to change something. I got lucky, and the application was approved.

 

SS: What do you do in your everyday work life?

AMGK: That really depends on the season and my whereabouts. When at my “academic home” in Zagreb and during the winter semester, I teach. I teach and teach and really teach a lot. The time is focused on faculty work and students. The little time that remains I spend on project management and finalizing far overdue papers. But, then the summer semester starts and I am free to focus on science and research. Then I work on new project ideas, organise data collection in the field, analyse the data once its available, go to conferences and project meetings, network with fellow scientists, discuss new ideas and findings with peers. Basically that is the time of the year I am most creative and do what I like best: research.

 

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

AMGK: Currently and with the focus on violence research, it is the discovery of the complexity of the concept and phenomenon of violence itself. It is exciting, even thrilling, to see how your own understanding of highly complex issues, that at first seem incomprehensible and a complete mystery, slowly but steadily evolves. First you think, based on what other scholars before you have been doing and found out, that you understand what violence is, why it occurs, how it might be prevented etc. Then you outgrow this phase and start critically questioning what you think you know, typically inspired by a paper or talk you heard or by a case you came along. Then you think you know nothing. And this is usually the most frustrating, but also most exciting point in my own research. What is violence? Is it only physical or also psychological, verbal, sexual, political, institutional? If you want to empirically research it, how will you define it? What do you include, what do you exclude? You struggle with the concept and construct of violence, think about new angles from which to approach it and so on. Then you discuss your ideas with peers and expert practitioners from the field (prosecutors, police officers, judges), get feedback, look at real cases, adjust your concepts and definitions etc. Basically, I would say this is the most exiting aspect of my research – detecting new areas of engagement and finding the best way to tackling them. The process of acknowledging how little I actually know about the “how” and “why” of one person injuring or killing another, while finding a way and the means to enhance my understanding of human violence and still my own scientific curiosity.

 

SS: What challenges do you encounter in science?

AMGK: Far too many I would say, with the most frustrating probably being the challenge of research funding. Working at a faculty or outside of an already existing research project with acquired funds for research work, it is very difficult to do empirically based criminology. During the years I had to become a “genius” in getting project funds and/or motivating others as well as myself to do a lot of volunteering. And in order to get your research funds you most commonly have to fit your scientific visions into the funding priorities of those you would like to pay for it. This is usually a difficult compromise, especially when you want to do basic research in social sciences, where the focus is predominantly on applied research. I guess the other challenges, like finding and keeping good staff, acquiring and keeping your independence, getting access to data etc. are not really unique to science as a work field. I would however say that being and working as a scientist is unique in one particular aspect, and that’s the working hours. You constantly puzzle around one or several research questions in your head and cannot limit this to some conventional working hours. It needs some time in the morning when I get into the office “to think myself into the problem” and to start “puzzling”, writing and working. And this “puzzling” does not stop when I leave the office to pick up my kids, or when I am on the playground or leave for the gym late in the evening. It is like a parallel side-show in your head to everything else what you are doing, and you constantly switch back and forth between off-work activities, like life, and your scientific “puzzling”. I believe it is like that because I am truly engaged with my science, not my work, and genuinely curious about the questions I study.

 

SS: What are your most promising findings in the field?

AMGK: My most promising findings in the field of violence research are, that it is possible to scale violence outside of the context of human behaviors, normative classifications, or justifications, purely based on its physical impact. People, if presented with several actual cases of violence, are able to intuitively ‘rank’ these cases merely on the basis of information about the physical aspect of the violence (e.g. the time the incident lasted, the injuries that occurred, the weapon or means used etc.). Their ‘rankings’ are frequently along the same line of though: how much suffering or pain did it cause? This indicates that it should be possible to design a universal “measure for violence” based purely on the “physics of violence”. Eventually, this might enable us to discover violence types and interrelationships that we have so far missed, because we have been preoccupied with normative classifications, motives, causes, justifications, vulnerabilities and a general outrage about violence.

 

SS: What motivates you to give a talk in Soapbox science?

AMGK: To show to the general public that what we are doing in science, even if basic research, has a potential impact on everyday life. To fascinate young people to consider a scientific career and to meet my peers in a casual environment. It is a great opportunity to promote my research and to popularize science. Of course, the Croatian Science Foundation, who is funding the “Violence Research Lab” in Croatia and the Max Planck Society that funds my Balkan Criminology research group will be very happy with the PR as well.

 

SS: Do you have a few words to inspire other female scientists? What can we do to attract more women to STEM fields?

AMGK: I would say go for it and never accept a “No”! I am the living example of fighting my way through very unfavorable research settings, firstly as a criminologist at a law faculty, but also as a young female scientist in a highly conservative academic setting, where back in 2013, when I was a “fresh” assistant professor, it was unheard of at my faculty (and even broader at my University) that someone on that level independently lead their own research group, let alone autonomously picked and employed their own research staff, or even disposed with their own research funds. It has been a constant struggle, and in many aspects still is, even as an associate professor, but it gets easier and in the long-run pays off. The whole challenge gets much more complex once you have kids, and here I believe is much space for improvements. In societies where it is still commonly accepted that the mum has the lead-role in child care and general housekeeping affairs, it is virtually impossible to keep up in the competition with our male peers. You “loose” not only the time(s) spent on maternity leaves, but with wanting to be a “good mum”, even if you are lucky like I was and find a temporary stay-at-home dad, always are torn between being a scientist and a mum. It would be much more attractive, not only for female scientists with kids, but for our male colleagues as well, if the scientific setting in general were a bit more family friendly. The MPI in Freiburg, where I currently am for an extended research stay of one year, is a good example, with reserved places in a nearby kinder garden. Good child care possibilities, flexible hours, or a financial support for babysitters and house-help are as important as strategically enhancing the share of female scientists in all fields of science and scientific management, esp. at top positions. Compared to 10 years ago, a lot has been accomplished with special scholarships for female scientists, trainings for women in science and raising awareness for the issue as such. But we are still far away form a scientific setting in which STEM fields are as attractive to women as they are to men.

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Science, and understanding how science works, is important for everyone: Meet Antonia Misch 

Dr. Antonia Misch (@AntoniaMisch), LMU Munich, is taking part in Soapbox Science Munich on 7th July where she will give a talk: “Wir und ihr: Warum sind Vorurteile wichtig? (Us and them: Why stereotypes matter (for better and for worse))”

 

 

 

SS: Why did you choose a scientific career?

AM: I love learning and exploring new things, and my work allows me to think about so many interesting questions every day! As a social developmental psychologist I study the development of social behavior, and so the questions I am thinking about are really relevant to many issues in our society. The most exciting part is that I can actually investigate and answer these questions by running real experiments.

 

SS: How did you get your current position?

AM: After high school I was thinking about studying psychology, but wasn’t sure whether I wanted to become a psychotherapist. At that time I didn’t know what else to do with a psychology degree. Then I heard that the psychology department at the local Max Planck Institute was recruiting interns to run psychological studies with children. I did an internship there and loved the work so much that I ended up staying until after my PhD. After that I moved to the States for a postdoc position at Yale in order to study the development of intergroup cognition. When I returned to Germany 2 years later I was excited to get this job at LMU Munich, and that’s where I am now.

 

SS: What do you do in your everyday work life? 

AM:

  1. Reading & Writing & Thinking
  2. Teaching
  3. Running experiments/ Supervising students who are running experiments
  4. Statistical analysis

 

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

AM: I love the freedom to investigate pretty much any question that I am interested in (within my field, of course). Another exciting aspect is that my research allows me to connect and collaborate with many interesting researchers from all over the world.

 

SS: What challenges do you encounter in science?

AM: One needs perseverance, patience and the ability to juggle multiple projects at the same time. Job insecurity is also a huge challenge.

 

SS: What are your most promising findings in the field?

AM: In my dissertation research I found that already 5-year-old children value group loyalty, and that they also show loyalty to their group themselves, sometimes by covering up their group members’ moral transgression.

One of my current studies shows a promising avenue to reduce children’s ingroup bias (which is a natural tendency to prefer members of the own group to members of another group): I found that the mere anticipation to collaborate with members of the outgroup is sufficient to diminish ingroup bias.

 

SS: What motivates you to give a talk in Soapbox science?

AM: I think that science, and understanding how science works, is important for everyone. Therefore, we scientists have to do a better job in making it understandable and accessible for the general public.

Furthermore, I would like to help to increase the visibility of non-stereotypical scientists in order to challenge a few beliefs about the world that perpetuate societal inequality. For example, when it comes to gender equality most people think that we live in an equal world because theoretically every woman has the same choices and chances as a man. But what most people don’t see is that from early on children’s desires and beliefs are shaped by the world they see and experience. And when young children see that all the powerful and smart positions are filled by people who are White and male, they will automatically start to believe that there is a deeper reason for that, such as that men might be inherently smarter than women. Research from the US shows that already 6-year-old girls think that men are smarter than women, and this belief impacts their own fledgling identity directly – girls perceive themselves as less smart compared to boys of the same age (needless to say that these beliefs are wrong). But educational and career choices are made based on the assumptions of what one perceives as achievable and suitable for oneself, and thus certain stereotypes prevent people who do not fit the stereotype from pursuing a particular career, for example in academia. I would not only like to challenge these stereotypes, but also raise awareness about the development and existence of implicit assumptions.

 

SS: Do you have a few words to inspire other female scientists? What can we do to attract more women to STEM fields?

AM: My advice for young women in academia (or actually in any field) would be: Don’t be intimidated by the confidence of your (male) colleagues. It does not mean that they are smarter or more knowledgeable than you, but most likely it is due to the fact that we were raised in a society that fosters boys’ and men’s confidence more than the confidence of girls and women.

Furthermore, I think women in science have to be more visible. So we should talk more about our research and our passion for research in public, as well as try to be good and approachable mentors for our students – all of them!

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Find good people to work with and build comradery: Meet Merry Crowson

I am a Remote Sensing Technician at the Institute of Zoology, Zoological Society of London. My research focusses on mapping deforestation in Sumatra, Indonesia, where large areas of tropical peatland forest are being lost and replaced by plantations. I monitoring deforestation using freely available satellite images and open source software – essentially making maps from space! During the Soapbox Science London event on 26th May I will be exploring some of these satellite images with the audience and discussing the potential of using them to study the surface of the earth from afar.

 

SS: How did you get to your current position?

MC: My career has taken such a roundabout route that I couldn’t possibly fit it all into a single paragraph, but it involved lots of muddy fieldwork, circus skills, language learning and hard work. I had to the opportunity to do a Masters in Geography whilst living Berlin, where university education is free, and it was there that I developed skills in coding, data management and remote sensing analysis. It was these skills that led me to my current role at the Institute of Zoology and I am extremely happy to be here.

 

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

MC: I enjoyed science at school, but in terms of getting a career in science I think my sister was my biggest inspiration. She just went for it!

 

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

MC: My research produces lots of maps and I find them endlessly fascinating. You can keep asking them different questions and gaze at them until they tell you something.

 

 

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

MC: The opportunity to challenge the mainstream view of scientists – I think lots of young people do not realise how different one scientist is from the next, and how many different skills you can bring to the table.

 

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

MC: Adventure

 

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

MC: I would make it more diverse. We had a great lecture series during my Bachelors about the history and development of Geography, but I used to refer to it as the “pictures-of-men-with-beards lecture”, as they appeared in one slide after another. Hopefully, in 100 years’ time, prominent scientists will be more of a mixed bunch.

 

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

MC: Find good people to work with and build comradery.

 

 

 

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The things you are passionate about are not random, they are your calling: Meet Katharina Seilern-Moy

Katharina is a wildlife veterinarian and research associate at the Institute of Zoology at London Zoo. She is working for the Garden Wildlife Health project (@wildlife_health), a Citizen Science project, looking into diseases as potential contributing factor to species declines or well-fare issues in garden birds, amphibians, hedgehogs and reptiles.

You can catch Katharina at Soapbox Science London on 26th May where she will be giving her talk: “How you can help wildlife vets protect our garden friends by becoming a Citizen Scientist”

 

 

SS: how did you get to your current position?

KSM: Wildlife conservation always was my one big passion and at University in Vienna I was lucky enough to be able to specialise in Conservation Medicine. After a year of working in a mixed animal practice, to get my practical skills going, I decided that it was time to be part of the change, to actively participate in wildlife conservation from a medical and research perspective. To me, that meant learning how to pursue and communicate research in order to learn more about the many issues our wild animals are facing and to pass that information on. What better way to do so than through a PhD? So I pursued my PhD on Elephant Endotheliotropic Herpes Virus infection in Asian elephants, a condition challenging the overall sustainability of that species. Since September 2016, I am now employed at the Institute of Zoology as Wildlife Veterinarian & Research Associate for the Garden Wildlife Health project, a Citizen Science project located at London Zoo, ZSL, analysing the impacts of infectious and non-infectious diseases on animal welfare and populations of garden wildlife.

 

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

KSM: Asking questions about anything related to animals, biology, medicine, etc. always was a big part of my natural curiosity on how it all works. The fascination of how creatures adapt to their surroundings and needs, why they are what they are, how diseases affect them. And as a veterinarian focusing on wildlife health, I felt a deep passion and responsibility to engage in enhancing awareness and education on animal conservation. I was always striving towards gaining as much experience as possible in the broad field of Wildlife Conservation in order to participate in the advancement of wildlife medicine, to help conserve endangered species, to perform research, and finally to hopefully inspire other science enthusiasts to do the same. This was somehow always a part of me. Photo: Sample analysis during my PhD

 

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

KSM: Having spent a few years focusing on one disease pathogen in one species (elephant herpes), it is really fascinating to take a few steps back and to look at the bigger picture again. My daily work now involves various species of animals (birds, amphibians, reptiles and mammals) and many different types of pathogens (virus, bacteria, fungi or a non-infectious agents). Most importantly, I find myself in the very lucky position that allows me to combine many different aspects I am passionate about: wildlife medicine and advice, wildlife pathology, training and supervision of undergrad and master students, conducting research, project coordination, conference presentations and working with the government on disease surveillance and public health. Photo: Field studies/wildlife vet work in South Africa

 

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

KSM: I think engaging with the public and communicating science is of fundamental importance in order to share knowledge, learn from each other, promote our work and hopefully encourage critical thinking and debate. Soapbox Science offers a great platform for a very direct interaction between people that might not necessarily have engaged otherwise and encourages questions that might not have been asked. And maybe, this even inspires future scientists!

 

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

KSM: Curiosity (from both sides)!

 

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

KSM: Make the publication of so-called “negative results” a valuable output. This would prevent much of the competition, would encourage for collaboration, and minimise the duplication of effort. I would like to see people talk more openly about what they do, what they tried so far, and where and why they might have failed. This would be a huge step forward.

 

SS: What would be your top recommendation to a woman studying for a PhD and considering pursuing a career in academia?

KSM: “The things you are passionate about are not random, they are your calling.” Never give up. A PhD can be exhausting, and especially challenging towards the end. But all you have to do is keep going – it is doable and it will be worth it. You will grow with the task and learn a lot from this experience. Photo: GWH staff at the New Scientist Exhibition 2017

 

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Equality is a good goal, but equity is even better: Meet Samuela Guida

Samuela Guida started her PhD at Cranfield University in March 2017. Her project is about the removal of ammonia and phosphorus from wastewater and the recovery of these products as fertilizers. Before being discharged into the water streams, the wastewater needs to be treated to reduce the impact on the quality of the water itself. Samuela does this with a process called ion exchange, which captures the contaminant ions present in the wastewater and releases inert ions. The resins used in this process, called ion exchangers, can be then cleaned and the contaminants ions can be recovered as valuable products, such as fertilizers.

 

You can catch Samuela on a soapbox as part of Soapbox Science Milton Keynes on 30th June where she will talk about“From water pollutants to fertilizers: a smart use of wastewater!”

Follow Samuela on Twitter: @samuela_guida

 

SS: How did you get to your current position?

SG: During the last year of my master degree in Industrial Biotechnology at the University of Padova, Italy, I started focusing on the environmental aspects of the biotechnologies and I decided to do an internship at the Ecole des Mines de Nantes, France, to study the removal of contaminants from wastewater. It was a completely new aspect of science to me and I was shocked at how wide the topic was. During a conference, I met two PhD students from Cranfield University, a place that I had never heard about. They told me about this University and its Water program. So, in December 2017, half panicking about my future, I came across the Cranfield University website and there was this amazing project similar to what I was doing in France – so I applied and here I am!

 

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

SG: I’ve always been curious about how and why things happen. I remember when I was a really young kid and I was watching my mom making coffee with a Moka pot (…the “Italian way”). I was there standing in front of this magical machine that could transform water and ground coffee in a beverage that was as liquid as the water and it had the flavour of the ground coffee (again, I was a kid, everything amazed me!). I think that was the moment when I decided that I wanted to find the answers to all the “how?” and “why?” around me. Funny enough, scientific research and coffee are still closely linked to each other in my everyday life!

 

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

SG: We live in an increasingly polluted world and many of the resources we use are finite or replenished much more slowly than we are using them. My research is a starting point towards finding a sustainable solution to these problems. The project offers an alternative to traditional wastewater treatment technologies and, at the same time, provides a method to recover nutrients as fertilizers that can be sold to maintain the economic feasibility of the entire process. I really think this is innovative and so exciting!

 

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

SG: The possibility to involve non-experts in my work. I think that, as a PhD student, sometimes I am so focused on my to-do list that I forget why I am doing research. I believe Soapbox Science can help me to take a step back and look at my project from a different point of view. Moreover, the idea of an event with only female scientists makes me feel powerful! I think that showing young girls that science is not just for boys is incredibly important.

 

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

SG: Curiosity!

 

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

SG: The idea that equality and equity are the same concept. Equality means everyone receives the same thing, whereas equity means everyone receives what they need to achieve the same thing. Science should be equally accessible to everyone without any restriction caused by gender, social class, ethnicity or religion. There are so many incredible initiatives focused on removing gender bias (like Soapbox Science!) but equity is still something we have to work on. In an ideal world, a person would receive the tools to maximise her or his potential and to reach the best results in her or his work.

 

SS: What would be your top recommendation to a woman studying for a PhD and considering pursuing a career in academia?

SG: Step up, believe in yourself, and never let anyone tell you that you are not good enough.

 

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Communicating findings to farmers is critical: Meet Dr Helen Metcalf

Dr Helen Metcalfe is a postdoctoral research scientist working at Rothamsted Research. She is an agricultural ecologist and her work looks at how farming systems respond to changes in management practices. She particularly focuses on weeds within agricultural landscapes and how changes in the landscape and farm management can affect which plants you can find there. Her Soapbox Science talk will be focusing on weeds and why they might not always be the bad guys! Weeds are plants growing in the wrong place and so by definition we want to try and get rid of them where possible. However, some weeds can also provide benefits by supporting wildlife on farms. This not only makes the farm a more diverse ecosystem but can also provide other benefits to the farmer too!

You can catch Helen on a soapbox as part of Soapbox Science Milton Keynes on 30th June where she will talk aboutFarming – not just about food

Follow Helen on Twitter: @HMetcalfe1

 

SS: How did you get to your current position?

HM: I completed my PhD at Rothamsted Research looking at one weed species (black-grass) and why it grows in certain parts of the field and not others. Every day was different and I got to do so many different things; from simulating weed patch dynamics on a computer, to measuring them in the field. After my PhD I was able to keep doing what I loved as a post-doc at Rothamsted Research. I no longer work on just one species, but instead I simulate all of the weed species in the agricultural landscape. This is certainly more challenging but I think that makes it even more fun!

 

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

HM: I would love to say that I have always been interested in science and it was something I have longed to do since I was tiny. However, it didn’t really happen like that. I have always been curious and loved learning but that was never restricted to just science. At school, I loved reading and was pretty much a super geek as I enjoyed most of my lessons! This made it really difficult to choose which subjects I wanted to specialise in. When it came to choosing my A levels I hedged my bets a bit and chose to study 2 sciences and 2 languages. From there I went on to do a biology degree and never looked back!

 

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

HM: I’m intrigued by the way species within a landscape interact. Even agricultural systems (which are simple as far as ecosystems go) are extremely complicated. There are so many different plants and insects (there are lots of other species too, but these are the ones I need to worry about) and each depends on many others. The complexity of these interactions means it is a challenge to simulate just a tiny part of an ecosystem – there is always something more to learn!

 

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

HM: One of my colleagues was a speaker at Milton Keynes Soapbox Science in 2016. I went along to support her and came away with a massive smile on my face! Seeing so many passionate local female scientists was really inspiring and I really wanted to be a part of that. I love hearing about other people’s work and wanted to be able to share my own science with others.

 

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

HM: Excited!

 

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

HM: I feel that communicating my work to non-scientists is not valued as much as it should be. To me, a big part of my job is talking to farmers. In my opinion, telling them about my work and how it could benefit them on the farm is just as important as sharing my findings with other scientists. Yet, it is the latter that is much more highly valued in the science community.

 

 SS: What would be your top recommendation to a woman studying for a PhD and considering pursuing a career in academia?

HM: Find a subject area that completely fascinates you. A PhD takes a lot of time and effort but if you absolutely love it then it will never feel like work!

 

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Look beyond your discipline: Meet Chioma Vivian Ngonadi

Chioma Vivian Ngonadi is a PhD student at the Department of Archaeology, University of Cambridge. She is a Gates Scholar and a mum to two young boys aged 3 and five years old. Her research examines how the West African Iron smelters in Lejja, Southeastern- Nigeria fed themselves and integrated the food quest among themselves in the deeper past (2,000- 3,000 B.C.).  She will be talking about “ A Human Fingerprint on an Iron working Landscape” at London Soapbox Science on the 26th of May 2018.

 

 

 

SS: How did you get to your current position?

CVN: I grew up in southeastern Nigeria and graduated with a B.A. in Archaeology from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka- Nigeria and an M.A. in Archaeology from the University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. On returning to Nigeria, I joined the academic staff of the Department of Archaeology, University of Nigeria, Nsukka in 2012. I was encouraged by my husband, Uche Ngonadi to apply for a PhD position in Cambridge which I did and I was awarded the prestigious Gates Cambridge Scholarship.  Currently, I am in the third year of my PhD with a thesis title of “Early Agricultural Communities in Lejja, Southeastern-Nigeria: An Archaeobotanical Investigation”.

 

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

CVN: I can say that my love for science and archaeology began when I was a secondary school student. Reading history books and watching discovery channels about ancient treasures and explorers was quite inspiring and I was highly intrigued by past human activities and ways of life.

 

SS: What is the fascinating aspect of your research?

CVN: I work on seeds, potsherds, pollens and in archaeology, these three proxies can help to reconstruct the plant food exploited, vegetation, climate, and human-landscape relationship in the deeper past.  I find it fascinating that these archaeological materials can reveal so much about what happened thousands of years ago and can help us link the past to the future.

 

SS: What attracted you to Soapbox Science?

CVN: I enjoy taking part in science outreach events and talking to people about my research.  I have done so in different ways in Cambridge and Nigeria. For me, Soapbox offers a new platform to discuss and inform the public about Archaeology and the various methods of understanding the past.

 

SS: Sum up in your word your expectation of the day

CVN: Excitement!!!

 

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

CVN: I would like researchers to look beyond their disciplines and experience what is happening in other fields. There should be more scientific communications between scientist, and the public.

 

SS: What would you recommend for a woman studying for a PhD?

CVN: PhD journey can be quite overwhelming, but you should be kind to yourself and take a step at a time. Try and use your current position to create space for others along the way and build bridges through your subject.

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Public engagement needs to be a two-way process: Meet Emma Cascant-Lopez

Emma Cascant-Lopez (@EmCascant), NIAB-EMR, will be taking part in Soapbox Science Canterbury 2018 on 23rd June, giving a talk entitled “The circadian clock: How pathogens know when is the best time for infection”

 

 

 

 

SS: How did you get to your current position?

ECL: My name is Emma Cascant. After finishing my Biology degree in Valencia (Spain), I came to England to gain work experience through a Leonardo Studentship. I worked during 6 months at the genetics department of NIAB EMR, looking at the science behind the rootstock-scion interaction in crop plants. At the end of the placement I was convinced I wanted to do a PhD, and I was offered a PhD position at the same institute. My research focused in the study of the circadian clock of an important plant-pathogen that causes devastating loses to the horticultural industry. The aim was to elucidate time-specific pathogenic responses that could allow the development of highly precise control measures of the plant-pathogen. Currently, I just started a PostDoc at NIAB EMR to understand the lifecycle of the fungal plant-pathogen Verticillium dahliae and regulation by environmental signals such as light and temperature, with the intention to come up with novel effective management strategies.

 

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

ECL: During high-school I was inspired by my Biology teacher. She made me love and admire the subject, and I was always amazed by how molecularly complicated but perfect life is. That is the reason why I studied Biology at the University, and despite being more inclined towards molecular biology, I enjoyed every subject very much due to the enthusiasm of my professors.

 

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

ECL: Studying the circadian clock is very fascinating. This molecular mechanism allows organisms to track time, which increases the efficiency of many metabolic, behavioural and physiologic processes, i.e. sleep and hormone production. The desynchronization of the circadian clock is the cause of jet lag, and can be the cause of several illnesses in rotational shift workers. The clock also exists in plants and fungi. It is exciting to think that the control of fungal plant-diseases could be more successful by applying the treatment in a specific time-of-day. Not only it would allow an increase in efficiency, but it could reduce the amount of treatment needed. Win-win!

 

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

ECL: I wish more people would want to become a scientist. Showing not only how important for our society is, but how exciting it can be may inspire young generations to pursue a career in science. I hope that the Soapbox Science event turns out being very productive in engaging young (and not so young) girls in science. I am also very attracted to meet other woman in STEM, and hopefully create networks for future collaboration or public engagement events.

 

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

ECL: Fun

 

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

ECL: The way of informing and communicating our research to the public. Scientists usually feel more comfortable to communicate their research to other members of the scientific community. However, more efforts should be made to reach a wider public and empower people to have critical thinking. In my opinion, some people could change their mind about topics such as GMOs if there were more information about the biology and methodology behind them. However, the public is bombarded with all kind of pseudoscientific information. Furthermore, public engagement needs to be a two-way process, where public could express their concerns on different topics. As an example, plant-pathologists should work and engage with growers and industry to share knowledge and come up with feasible strategies for crop management.

 

SS: What would be your top recommendation to a woman studying for a PhD and considering pursuing a career in academia?

ECL: I would tell them to be perseverant and always believe in their potential. To get involved in a wide range of University or public engagement events and to build their network and collaborate with other researchers.

 

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The world is run by people who show up: Meet Erin McCloskey

Erin McCloskey (@ER_IN_RESEARCH), Canterbury Christ Church University, will be taking part in Soapbox Science Canterbury 2018 on 23rd June, giving a talk entitled “Being an expert in not being an expert: How peer support programs help mend broken hearts”

 

 

 

 

 

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

EM: In 2015, I came to the UK to study a MSc in global mental health at King’s College London and London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. Originally, I came to study women’s addiction, but was surprised to find I had developed a strong interest for stillbirth bereavement. I knew I wanted to continue my career in academia, so I spent time looking for an institution that would be the right fit for my PhD. I interviewed for a PhD studentship at Canterbury Christ Church University in 2017, and was delighted to receive an offer for a fully funded scholarship and stipend. I began my program in February 2018. Currently, I’m in the process of developing my final proposal where I plan on researching how bereaved parents of stillbirth participate in peer support programs and how participating in these groups impact their grief journeys.

 

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

EM: As a child, I wasn’t encouraged to pursue science since it wasn’t a strong area in my studies.  My mother was chronically ill which meant that I was preoccupied with tending to her and worrying about her health, that I couldn’t concentrate on my school subjects.  Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would become a doctoral student! Fortunately, my grandmother encouraged me to enroll first in a community college and then a four-year university. Later, I received academic support from my female professors. Patricia Jensen JD, was a consistent form of support throughout my MA at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota. The most valuable lesson she taught me was to show up. “The world is run by people who show up. You don’t have to be the best, you don’t have to be the most, but you do need to show up”. As simple as this advice may sound, it’s much harder to follow through with it on a day-to-day basis. However, it is now a guiding principle in my life.

 

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

EM: Although my subject area is heavy and very sensitive, I love the fact that I can work directly with bereaved parents and with charities. A lot of the work I’m doing currently involve meeting with people and hearing their experiences of losing a child and perspective of mental health care after their loss in the UK. These parent’s experiences are the fuel for my research. I enjoy developing a project that will impact programming and support for families who experience baby loss.

 

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

EM: I’m an avid believer in women supporting women, and Soapbox Science serves as a vehicle for scientists to meet each other outside formal settings. In addition, I love that this event brings the public and researchers together to break down societal silos.

 

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

 EM: Luminosity.

 

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

EM: The glamorization of the ‘imposter syndrome’ is something I actively want to change on my campus. It’s so common for novice researchers to feel inadequate to others in their field, and to internalize their fears as fuel to do their work. It’s normal to hear fellow doctoral students to devalue their skillset and to belittle their own work! If they couldn’t succeed, they wouldn’t have been selected to do a PhD program. I would love to see self-confidence grow on campus and gain a presence to counteract the inadequacy of the imposter syndrome.

 

SS: What would be your top recommendation to a woman studying for a PhD and considering pursuing a career in academia?

EM: No one else can do the work you can do.  There is plenty of room at the table for you, and the work you want to do. Your interests are important, and your perspective is needed. Finally, choose the institution with the most support rather than choosing the institution’s brand and reputation.

 

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Share your findings and improve trust in science: Meet Michelle Hulin

Dr Michelle Hulin (@michhulin), NIAB EMR, will be taking part in Soapbox Science Canterbury 2018 on 23rd June, giving a talk entitled “Hop, skip, jump: How bacteria evolve to infect new plant species”

 

 

 

 

 

SS: How did you get to your current position?

MH: I am currently a postdoctoral researcher. To get here, I first did a BSc degree in Biology at the University of Bath. I had the opportunity to undertake a summer research placement in the university molecular biology labs during my second year working on molecular detection of spoilage yeast. In my third year I transferred these skills to work on detection of Fusarium wilt oil palm disease for my dissertation. These experiences and the supervisors convinced me that I would really like to continue working in science, so I applied for a PhD at the University of Reading/NIAB EMR, supervised by Prof Robert Jackson, Prof John Mansfield and Dr Richard Harrison. This was looking at the evolution of pathogenicity and host specificity of bacteria on cherry trees. I aimed to understand what genes allowed the bacteria to cause disease. In my final year of my PhD I helped write a research grant to continue my current research. I am employed as a post-doctoral researcher at NIAB EMR working on this grant. My main interests are bacterial genetics and evolution, combining molecular biology with bioinformatic analysis. I’d like to apply these skills to other important bacterial plant diseases.

 

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

MH: I really enjoyed studying biology at school and university. Science is a very rewarding and interesting career path as you can put your all into trying to understand the world around you. During university, I enjoyed microbiology courses and studying the interactions between microbes and higher organisms such as plants and animals. I was interested in what drives some microorganisms to become pathogenic. I also enjoyed plant science modules, so brought the two interests together to study plant pathology in my PhD.

 

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

MH: The part of my work that I find most fascinating is how bacteria can rapidly evolve to adapt to their environmental conditions and how they interact with plants. These interactions are often called an arms-race where the pathogen and plant species are constantly evolving to overcome the other. Our work on cherry pathogens, has shown that these bacteria have gained and lost multiple pathogenicity genes during their evolution and that this has helped them adapt to cause disease towards this particular host plant. Some of these important genes have been gained on plasmids which are small circular pieces of DNA that bacteria can transfer to each other, whilst another important gene has been gained within a bacteriophage sequence (a bacteria-infecting virus).

 

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

MH: I really want to engage more with the public about science, I think it is important to share our findings and improve trust in science. I’d like to inspire young biologists to study plant pathology as this is an area of key importance for future food security and we do not want there to be a generational gap in experts in this area. You can study fundamental questions about evolution and ecology using plant-microbe systems making them just as interesting as human and animal pathogens!

 

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

MH: Rewarding

 

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

MH: I would like to improve the way science is communicated to the public. There is a lot of mistrust in science such as fears of genetically modified food and doubts about climate change. Science is often misconstrued and over-hyped by the media and it seems that every food item can cause or prevent cancer leading to a lot of confusion! I would really like there to be more training on scientific communication from schools upwards.

 

SS: What would be your top recommendation to a woman studying for a PhD and considering pursuing a career in academia?

MH: Don’t be afraid of failure, science doesn’t always answer your questions straight away and often experiments will not work. Do the science that you enjoy doing and present it to others with pride!

 

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