Interview – Dr Jaclyn Pearson
Jac is a NHMRC Peter Doherty Research Fellow based at the University of Melbourne. She completed her undergrad at the University of Western Australia before moving to Melbourne to undertake a PhD on the virulence mechanisms of enteropathogenic E. coli. She now works in a post-doctoral position at the Doherty Institute, where she continues her research on virulence strategies of E. coli, Salmonella, and Shigella. She is also engaged in outreach, science communication, and mentorship activities.
What’s your current area of research?
My current area of research is host-pathogen interactions. Specifically, bacterial gut pathogens including enteropathogenic E. coli and Salmonella. I am interested in the mechanism of action of virulence proteins injected into the host by these bacteria and the host immune responses that are important in fighting bacterial gut infection.
What drew you to microbiology originally?
I first became really intrigued with bacteria in my second year microbiology practical classes at UWA. We had an excellent demonstrator, Chris, who really made the experiments interesting and fun. When I performed my first Gram stain, looked down the microscope and saw the bacteria, I was really impressed with how something so small could have such a huge impact on human health worldwide.
What does a standard day involve for you?
Well, in the morning I really like to take my time over breakfast and a coffee, just to feel settled before work. I usually walk to work and listen to some music on the way in. I like to start early in the lab – I start by setting up experiments for the day, followed by checking and replying to emails. Once this is done I usually head into the lab for experimental work again – this is often broken up with various meetings and admin tasks throughout the day. I usually try to go for a run in the afternoon – and then come back to the lab to finish up experiments and sit down to do some writing before heading home a bit later.
How do you like to spend your time outside the lab?
Outside of work I enjoy listening to music, and also playing music when I get the chance – I play guitar, drums and tabla – it can be tricky to get the time to do this since starting a career in science! My favourite bands are The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Radiohead and Culture Club - actually I just love 80’s music in general! I also play women’s AFL for Melbourne University – this involves two training sessions a week and a game at the weekend. I love playing footy and I also enjoy watching it during the season. I am a die-hard Fremantle supporter, but my Melbourne team are the Bulldogs! Other things I enjoy are swimming/surfing in the ocean, watching good films and going to art galleries.
What advice would you give to students/ECRs who are pursuing a career in research?
I love giving advice and helping students/ECRs to carve a solid pathway forward and to start developing a successful career – I have had fantastic mentoring myself and really believe it makes all the difference…so, my first piece of advice would be to find a good mentor! Whether it is your supervisor, a postdoc, a lab head from another lab, anyone that you feel you can trust and talk to, someone who respects you and will be willing to listen. Find them and develop a good relationship with them. They will be essential in making your career a success.
Also, be pro-active! Always take as many opportunities as you can, if you are asked to join a committee or organise a meeting, go to a conference, give a talk or a poster, say yes most if not all of the time early on in your career, you will have plenty of opportunities to more selective later in your more developed career. Make the most of the opportunity to promote yourself and your work. On that note, always engage in as much science communication as possible, whether that is giving talks, posters, writing a paper or even just part of a paper, writing blogs, talking to students, teaching opportunities. This will help you enormously in the future with presenting your work and coming across as confident and competent.
Find an area of research that you are passionate about – don’t compromise and do something you don’t enjoy, it’s not that hard to switch fields or bacteria/project after you have completed one. Volunteer to co-write reviews with your lab head and colleagues, show that you are interested and engaged in the work in the lab. Writing is an essential task and is required to be of a high standard in order to win funding later in your career. Ask more questions!!!
Do not be afraid to ask about anything you don’t understand or something you are interested in. Take criticism openly and do not be defensive – take it on board and try to learn from it, become a better, stronger scientist. Never be afraid to make mistakes, sometimes my best work has come from accidental mistakes and ‘bucket-science’ – be bold and try things, you never know what might happen! Always be looking to pursue collaborations – this will be key to increasing the impact of your work and the level of journals that you submit to. Most of all – enjoy yourself!!