Current Job: Asst. Prof. and Australian Research Council (ARC) (early career) Discovery Fellow, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University
Scientific Discipline/Field: Marine biology (fish physiology)
Pick some letters (L,G,B,T,Q etc.): LQ
What does your job involve?
My research program is loosely described as “athletes in a changing world” — but my athletes are fish! I design and execute research aimed toward investigating the evolutionary trade-offs associated with how fish and other marine organisms maintain physiological performance under elevated temperatures, elevated carbon dioxide (ocean acidification) and/or low oxygen or other environmental stressors. I also investigate the physiological mechanisms responsible for variations in performance and the importance of habitat in shaping the physiological responses to to changes in environmental conditions — information critical for predicting the effects of climate change on fish populations and marine ecosystems. My responsibilities also include supervising graduate and honours students’ research and thesis writing, publishing in high-impact, international journals, presenting research at national and international conferences, delivering seminars at research institutions, and actively engaging in workshops and outreach programs as well as communicating to the wider public through media releases, websites and social media, and via online, print, radio, and television media interviews.
How did you get to this job (education etc.)?
BSc in Marine Biology, MSc in Marine Biology (Fish Physiology), PhD in Comparative Physiology (Fish), 1 year Post-Doc.
Do you feel being LGBT has affected your career decisions?
Yes. There are certain places in the world where I would not even entertain the thought of a job because of persecution, whether it be overt and public or on the more indirect or discreet side. But, I am fairly certain there would be additional reasons (e.g., social, political, environmental) that I would not live in those places anyway.
Have you had any reactions from colleagues about being LGBT, either good or bad?
I had a really tough reaction from a previous supervisor many moons ago, and I don’t think that our relationship has ever recovered, unfortunately. There was also a significant length of time where I would purposely avoid any conversations about a significant other for fear of ostracism.
Spending six years in Vancouver while doing my PhD was a breath of fresh air in that respect; attitudes and policies were so progressive and I was able to build an amazing and supportive professional network and circle of friends. And, of course, I met my wife there too. 😉 We got married 2 weeks after I submitted my PhD dissertation. P.S. I don’t necessarily recommend that schedule!
Did you have any role models growing up (LGBT, STEM, totally unrelated…)?
No, I didn’t really have any obvious role models while growing up that would have lead me to my career choices. But in hindsight I can think of Dian Fossey, Jane Goodall, and Eugenie Clarke as famous and inspiring female biologists, but they were quite alone in their respective fields… some more literally than others. Dian Fossey is even famously quoted as saying “I have no friends.” I watched a lot of documentaries about the ocean, a lot of National Geographic explorer and the like… scientists fascinated me, but I really didn’t see a lot of women and certainly not to the point where I would think “I could be like her.” It was mostly white men.
LGBTQ wasn’t even close to being in the picture. My first experience with a famous person coming out publicly was Ellen Degeneres when she had her first show. It was 1997 when she came out to her therapist on the show (played by Oprah), and of course the country was gobsmacked! I had just finished high school and started university when that happened, and I remember the mood and the repercussions. And I think that since that didn’t go well for Ellen… it may have put a lot of people like me even further back, and especially when it came to thinking about my career. It was out of the question.
Today, things are quite different, thankfully! In fact, in my best publication (to date)… 80% of the authors are LGBTQ! We didn’t know this going into the study, but what a pleasant surprise when I found out!
All in all, I think it all still comes down to questions like “What is a scientist?”, “What does a scientist look like?”, “What does a scientist sound like?”, “What is a modern scientist?” And in some cases, it comes down to changing what that means to a lot of people. If there’s a young girl out there who is thinking about becoming a scientist or maybe a university student who is about to finish her PhD, and she can see that I did it, maybe she will think “I can do it too!” or “I want to be like her!” Even if it’s just one person, then that’s a huge win. If we have more diversity in science, we also have more diverse approaches and therefore a greater ability to solve these massive problems that our planet is facing.
What are your plans for the future?
My career goals include the obvious… tenure, full professorship, grants, publications, awards, etc. But I also want to build my lab to a size that functions because of the collaborations and camaraderie, embraces the natural hierarchies that form within a group, and thrives because of the culture and ethic that I have built from day one. I want to be known for encouraging and nourishing young scientists, advocating for women, LGBTQ, and other minorities in the STEM fields, and as a good role model and exemplar. I want to learn more, read more, write more, and speak out more. And, of course, I want to keep doing interesting research in amazing places with captivating animals and wonderful people to — out of pure curiosity — learn more about our natural world, but also — out of necessity — as we need to understand how the changes we are making to the planet are affecting the natural world and what we can do to minimise our negative impacts on global biodiversity.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Women and other minorities have advocated for equal opportunities/representation in STEM for decades, but LGBTQ researchers are only recently able to follow suit. Indeed, hiding a part of ourselves takes a lot of energy that could be better spent toward the next big scientific discovery. Therefore, as a woman and an out LGBTQ woman, it is important to me to be a strong role model – especially for the budding young scientists out there. We can use online resources like social media to highlight our own and our fellow LGBTQ scientists’ success stories, achievements, neat research findings, advice, etc. We can also work toward implementing and/or changing policies. Ultimately, recruiting, supporting, and retaining STEM diversity leads to happier scientists and better science.