My story

I suppose in high school I had no idea what I wanted to do. I liked science and maths mostly. So in year 11 and 12, I took mostly physics and maths. My subjects were methods, specialist, physics, French, psychology and English as well. I had a really broad range of interests, and I would have taken it in history and probably photography as well if I had the space.

I wanted to do a science degree because I thought it's nice in general and something I'm interested in. I went off to University actually thinking I'd become a psychologist until I discovered that psychology was boring to me. So I decided to do a double major in biochemistry and microbiology. I did my honors in microbiology and I got a job as a research assistant in a genetics lab. I did that for a bunch of years until I decided I was a bit tired of bench work. So I worked part-time my last year and got my teaching diploma and went and taught science and math.

After just being exhausted with teaching and caring for our first child, I decided to look at other opportunities. I happened upon a PhD project investigating biocomposites using bacterial cellulose,  and I thought I really like microbiology and this sounds really interesting in terms of the environment and biodegradable plastics.

And at the end of my PhD I ]thought maybe about doing a post-doc, but I had another baby in the middle of my PhD. And so our family was quite settled and I thought I'm not willing to travel, go overseas for post-doc.

I've got a lot of education and a passion for sharing science, so I began a role as the manager of a science outreach program from Monash. I then moved on to FLEET after my third child. In this role I was responsible for the outreach, designing any experiments or any equipment and demos. I also got to work with the PhD students with their training.

I did that for a number of years until I started my most recent position as the manager of the ARC Centre for Cell and tissue Engineering Technologies. It was a natural progression for me going from the training coordinator to the manager of a training centre.

Doing a PhD

During my PhD research I was looking at biodegradable plastics. I thought it was really important in terms of environmental impact and single use plastics and degradable materials. This is one of the things that originally drew my interest to this project in the first place.

PhD was an interesting experience, I found myself just working through how I was going to do different experiments and how it is going to make modifications to them and how to plan everything for the experiments and then carrying them out. That was the part of the PhD that I did enjoy, but it was also really challenging. During the PhD you are really responsible for your own plan and work.

You get a great sense of achievement when finishing experiments or projects. But at the same time you have massive setbacks. I remember repeatedly having experiments where I do a small sample at work perfectly, and then I'd upscale it and nothing would work and I'd throw a little tantrum and be like, 'I hate science'. But after you take some time away and you come back and go 'oh I do like this'.

Deciding where to work

I guess my process for choosing what job to take is if it is interesting to me. I'm not gonna apply for a job that doesn't interest me. When I went to my current role, I was worried about it for a while because I really, really loved working at FLEET. I loved the creative things, and that I could do what I wanted. But at the same time I thought that this new role is a natural progression for me. Career wise it's a step up. It's also something I'm interested in and also much more in my field. So that's why I applied to start with and it wasn't a matter of necessity. I wasn't looking for a job, but someone had sent it to me. I think those are the best positions, where people go, 'Hey, you'd be good for this. Can you apply please?'. I wouldn't have applied otherwise.

It is OK to fail

I worked really, really hard in terms of studying. I did really well in my senior years at high school. I got an ATAR of 95.9, and what really surprised me was when I got that and everyone said 'what are you gonna do now at uni?' And when I told them science people would be surprised and ask 'why not be a vet something?'. And I just thought why would I wanna be a vet when I enjoy science?

I went to Melbourne University and it was very much a case of going from big fish in a small pond, to a small fish in a big pond. My first semester I did not do well. I actually failed advanced maths, which was a real shock. And it was a shock to the system. That's what I thought 'oh my gosh, what am I going to do now?'. In hindsight, I probably shouldn't have taken advanced maths because it was quite a challenge and I wasn't interested. So I knuckled down in the second semester and did a whole lot better. So I think that first semester, but the shock to the system was when I went, whoa, I actually need to knuckle down and do some work here. Which is possibly a good wake up call for me.

Life outside of work

I have three kids, a 12 year old, nine year old and a six year old. They're very important and my everything. In lockdown it can be kind of a challenge because we're all at home in one space. I'm also fairly sporty and typically, I do a lot of sports which might be fairly unorthodox, but not at the moment because the gyms are closed. When not in COVID lockdowns I normally do Thai boxing, wrestling, jujitsu, MMA, and pole dancing. They are all a lot of fun, and normally I do sports six days a week. I also play the piano!

I do think that work-life balance is really important in life. It has also become a real focus by companies and institutions, particularly in STEM recently. Especially in physics I've found, this is because typically there were so few women in physics they are working to accommodate the need for family friendly working conditions. For example at Monash they have a family room that I used to take my kids to when I needed to be on campus. In there they have a TV, PlayStation, books and toys. We'd hang out there for the day and I'd sort of leave them and go off to see people when I needed to for meetings.

I'm a little bit torn in terms of work where I think it's fine for people to email on a Saturday, but they shouldn't expect a response. If you want to work Saturday, that's absolutely fine. If that means you're not working a different day, but you can't expect everyone to be working the same hours as you. But I think people are aware of that so it's a good thing.

My advice to you

I think it's important for students to know that you're not locked into anything, you can always try different things until you find the thing that is for you. I feel like I've tried a lot of different things. They've all been based around science and education typically.

You can always try different things, and if what you're doing isn't the be-all and end-all, you can always change to something else. For example you can try academia, and if it's not for you, then you can try something else. By trying different things you might find something unexpected that you really love.

More people like this