Job title

Senior Research Worker, Biochemical Profiling of Microalgae

Who do you work for?

I work for James Cook University, in partnership with MBD Energy Ltd, an Australian company focusing on developing sustainable, earth science-based solutions to industrial waste challenges through water bioremediation and CO2 capture and recycling. These organizations have formed a strong partnership alongside the Advanced Manufacturing Cooperative Research Centre (an Australian Government Initiative).

What does your job involve?

My work lies within the biochemical profiling area of the microalgal carbon capture research and development program. My colleagues and I work to establish the biochemical profiles (including fats, carbohydrates, protein, etc.) of various microalgae strains in order to evaluate their suitability for end products, such as biofuels or nutraceuticals. 

Why did you choose to work in the renewable energy industry?

The environment has always fascinated me, so my desire to preserve it for future generations comes naturally. When I saw Dr. John Leffler, of the College of Charleston (South Carolina, USA), speaking about an exciting novel, sustainable method for shrimp aquaculture, I was fascinated and inspired to work with him to complete a Masters by research. My Masters work investigated the role of microalgae and other microbes in recycling problematic, excess nutrients in shrimp aquaculture systems. Afterwards, I moved to Australia and witnessed another captivating talk at James Cook University by Dr. Kirsten Heimann about the remarkable prospects that lie in utilizing microalgae for biofuels. I was hooked, and here I am! 

What is the most rewarding part of your current job?

What I find most rewarding is knowing that I am part of a team that works together to surmount some of humanity’s biggest challenges, including waste management, sustainable energy development, and carbon capture. I feel that I have made a good career decision by entering a field that is not only growing rapidly but is also well supported by governments and the public. On a day-to-day basis I get excited about carrying out analyses in the lab then examining the results to draw meaningful conclusions that push our work forward.

What has been one of your recent achievements?

I recently collaborated with two of my colleagues to present some of our results at the Asia-Pacific Conference on Algal Biotechnology (APCAB 2012) in Adelaide, South Australia. Our work was well received and it felt great to share our hard-earned results with researchers from around the world. I was also fascinated to learn about new techniques being pioneered by other researchers in my field.

What is the most challenging part of your current job?

The most challenging part of my job is balancing the demands of multiple, simultaneous projects, while still making progress in each of them. It takes a great deal of organization to keep track of everything.  

What do you hope to do in the future?

In the future, I hope to continue working in the field of sustainable energy or aquaculture. I would love to be a principle investigator or professor so that I could lead a lab group, construct experiments, and have the opportunity to inspire and recruit intelligent students and scientists into this field.

What are some of the other benefits of your job?

My job has given me the opportunity to gain a versatile skill set, spanning biology to nutrition, chemistry, and analytics. This versatility is particularly important in the current economic climate where jobs are scarce. I also feel that I am well paid and I receive help in the lab from a research assistant who I supervise.

What training did you have for this job?

Upper secondary school

In high school I took advanced placement courses in biology. These advanced courses allowed me to progress much more rapidly through my University biology requirements. 

After secondary school

After high school, I attended Eckerd College, where I majored in marine science with a focus on marine biology. I also completed an internship at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab during university, which allowed me to work alongside many graduate students and provided me with valuable laboratory experience. This experience fuelled my own desire to go to graduate school (College of Charleston) after college, where I gained my Masters degree studying the role of micro algae in sustainable shrimp aquaculture.

What is your advice to school students interested in a similar career?

Take advanced classes in biology and chemistry (including organic chemistry), and ‘get your hands dirty’ doing some volunteering or an internship in a laboratory. Go to public talks about sustainable energy development in your community or at a university nearby and ask questions afterwards. Going to graduate school was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, so I would recommend students to get a graduate degree if you can. The experience I gained during that time was what helped ‘jump-start’ my career in this exciting and highly relevant field.