Instrument Scientist, Australian Centre for Neutron Scattering, ANSTO
(Information collected in October 2018)
I studied physics as an undergraduate, but I missed not studying biology at university. When I realised I could do a Master’s degree specialising essentially in “physics for biology”, I got my application in quickly. I continued working at the interface of physics and biology for a PhD.
I’m Australian but wanted to travel after school so completed my degrees in France and moved to the Netherlands after finishing my PhD.
Currently I’m working as an instrument scientist in Australia. For me the job is the perfect mix: I do some technical work, and am involved in research across a range of fields, from biology to metallurgy. I like the variety and it’s a privilege to work with the amazing scientists who come from all over the world to use the instrument.
During my PhD I performed neutron scattering measurements to measure protein dynamics (spectroscopy). Currently, I mainly use neutrons to study the structure of materials. I also did some molecular dynamics simulations during my PhD and worked in a NMR laboratory for a post-doctoral position. I’m by no means an expert in those fields, but it helps to have a broader view of science.
After completing a PhD at the Institut Laue Langevin in Grenoble, France, I was lucky enough to get some funding to stay for a short period in a collaborator’s lab in Grenoble. That was an extremely productive year, with lots of things coming together and some high impact papers.
I moved to the Netherlands afterwards for a post-doctoral position in quite a different field: new technique (NMR), new proteins. That was challenging, but I’m really glad to have had exposure to the techniques and grateful to the group for teaching me so much.
Australia was building up a new neutron facility during my post-doctoral time in the Netherlands and I applied for a permanent job back in Sydney in 2009 as a small angle neutron scattering scientist. I was glad to get a permanent job relatively early and remember being very happy to be in my home country once again.
I keep my google scholar profile up to date.
It’s important to be flexible with this. There are periods when I’m at work on weekends, but I’m not a workaholic and there are also lots of weeks where I walk away at 5pm. I haven’t worked full time since having children.
I had a massive wake-up call one day: I lied to my partner and said I was going shopping on the weekend when I was actually coming to work to change samples (like having an affair… with a neutron instrument). I realised how ridiculous I’d been, and I now communicate much better about when I’m likely to be called into work etc. My partner is very supportive and I’m grateful for that.
I’ve been lucky to have had supervisors who were both talented scientists and supportive on a personal level: Joe Zaccai, Martin Weik and Frans Mulder. They have helped me well past when I left their groups, and this has been invaluable. More recently Paul Butler from the National Institute for Standards and Technology has been a great mentor and I have many supportive colleagues and managers here at the Australian Centre for Neutron Scattering (ACNS).
Our external users really help me to stay motivated on a day to day basis: they push me to develop our instrument and allow me to be involved in different scientific fields. I’m sure the relatively high number of women scientists here at ACNS helps me to feel at home also.