What do you do?
First and foremost, I am a microbiology researcher, and I have been working to understand the human gut microbiome (the collection of microbes that lives in our guts and contributes to our health) for a number of years now. I oversee a lab of very talented research scientists and together we work to peel back the layers of complexity of microbial ecosystems, and their effects on health.
Second, I am a teacher, and I manage several courses aimed at the undergraduate level, as well as carry out a lot of outreach to bring science to the community at large in an approachable way.
And thirdly, with my founding partners, I run a spin-off company based on my research that aims to translate some of our research findings to the clinic, making people healthier by restoring their gut microbiomes.
Why did you choose this field?
I always knew I wanted to be a scientist, but it took me a while to find microbiology. I started out with a passion for understanding the cosmos, and gravitated towards astrophysics while at high school. But in the end, I realized that I am not a natural mathematician, and the messy world of biology became a new source of fascination. At University, where I studied biochemistry, I discovered microbiology and never looked back!
What do you look at and think, "I wish younger me would have known this was possible"?
I actually look back at the younger me with pride – I managed to achieve all I set out to do in those early days and more, despite several obstacles including, at one point, some crippling anxiety issues. At the time, I had no idea where life might take me, but I look back now and thank the younger me for trusting that whenever a door in life would close, another would open, and for realizing that the more I learned, the more doors there would be to open!
Why do you love working in STEM?
Most of all I love that science transcends all of the cultural, religious and social barriers to human progress. Science is what it is. To be a scientist is to be able to freely focus on how the world really works. I love tackling enormously complex problems with my team and my network of collaborators, and the incredible satisfaction of slotting a piece of the puzzle into place using logic and a well-designed experiment.
Best advice for next generation?
My best advice is to be doggedly determined, like I was. If you decide that science is for you, then don’t let others dissuade you because of some ill-perceived notion that science is too difficult, or somehow not feminine enough.
Inspo quote / fun fact / role model
My role model is the late, great Sydney Finegold, an eminent microbiologist who studied the human gut microbiome before it became trendy, and made enormous strides in the field. He was also one of the kindest, most gentle souls you could hope to meet. He passed away recently at the amazing age of 97, and leaves a legacy of great science behind him.