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International Women’s Day Q&A Spotlight on Stephanie Jones

The International Women’s Day celebrations continue at IIDR with our next Q&A spotlight on Stephanie Jones. Stephanie is a trainee in Marie Elliot’s lab and is working towards completing her PhD. Stephanie shares how aspiring female scientists can overcome ‘imposter syndrome’; the benefits of having a female mentor like Marie; and her #BeBoldforChange goal to continue to educate herself on the actual facts on gender parity in science.

What does your research focus on?

I study the growth of Streptomyces bacteria. It has always been thought that these bacteria grow rooted in place like plants and I recently discovered that Streptomyces can move rapidly across surfaces and can communicate this behaviour to other nearby Streptomyces. I’m working to identify the genetic and biochemical factors underlying these new modes of bacterial growth and communication.

What are the real world applications of your research?

Streptomyces produces many clinically useful metabolites, and it’s possible this newly discovered mode of growth could lead to the identification of more clinical compounds. Additionally, it’s possible these rapidly moving cells could be used to coat plant seeds or roots to shield against pathogens.

What do you love most about being an IIDR trainee?

The collaborative environment! The labs have such diverse expertise, and are always open to sharing resources and advice and helping with various techniques. My first author research articles would not have been possible without help from IIDR labs. I also love IIDR Trainee Day. I think it’s a fantastic opportunity for labs to share their work and form collaborations.

What is your proudest accomplishment in your academic career thus far?

I’m really proud of our recent publication in eLife on this new mode of Streptomyces growth. This is a huge microbial development and it’s been awesome to see that the broad scientific community is fascinated by our work. Most importantly, I think our work shows that there’s so much left to discover about microbial development, and it’s possible other well-studied microbes could be capable of growing in surprising ways.

What do you hope to achieve at the IIDR?

I’d like to continue doing research that advances our understanding of the ways Streptomyces can grow and develop. Now that I’m in the final years of my PhD, I’d also like to mentor undergraduate and Masters students who are also IIDR trainees.

What is your advice for aspiring female scientists?

I think many grad students have imposter syndrome, a term to describe a common fear of being exposed as a “fraud” or “found out” as not being as smart or talented or deserving or experienced as people think. I think a lot of people feel like they don’t belong in science and I think it’s particularly prevalent among females. I’ve often felt like I’m in the wrong place, and that there must be someone better than me for the job. My advice for overcoming this is to take advantage of every opportunity. Apply for scholarships and talks, even if you think you won’t win. Socialize and network with other labs and scientists using social media, and get involved in your department. Speak out at departmental seminars and conferences, and don’t be afraid to compliment or challenge the ideas of yours peers.

Why should women and girls be interested in pursuing a career in science?

We need more women in science! There’s still an unbelievable gender gap in higher positions in STEM fields. We need more women to fight gender bias and we need more female mentors to encourage women to pursue research in STEM fields.

Do you have a female mentor? What are the benefits of having a mentor?

I’m really lucky to be working in Dr. Marie Elliot’s Lab. Dr. Elliot is an incredible mentor. She has taught me to pursue opportunities, present and communicate with confidence, and be confident in the impact and importance of my work.  She’s also enthusiastic about the lab’s work, and I think this energy is contagious to anyone who is in her lab, or takes one of her undergraduate classes. I’m also lucky to have learned from some great female senior grad student and postdocs who have been in the lab. I think the benefits of having mentors are endless. It’s important to have a great role model to continuously self-improve, to learn how to teach others, and to learn how to navigate the emotional complexities of graduate studies.

The theme for International Women’s Day is “Be Bold for Change” which encourages women to declare what bold action they will take to specifically help drive gender parity. What will you do to “Be Bold for Change” in 2017?

I’d like to continue to educate myself about the actual statistics and facts on gender parity in science, so that I can educate kids on why it’s important for females to be promoted and encouraged in STEM fields. I think a large proportion of people think opportunities should go to the best candidate, regardless of gender, without realizing women are discouraged and overlooked by STEM fields from the earliest years of schooling, preventing them from becoming the best candidate.

Look out for more Q&A spotlights on women at the IIDR throughout March and learn about their fascinating research, achievements, advice for women in science and what they’re doing to #BeBoldForChange in 2017.