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