Esteemed lecturers inspire a career in STEM

Michelle Guzik

Some undergraduate students are notorious for switching off rather than tuning in, but this wasn’t the case for Senior Research Associate Michelle Guzik PhD.

She studied biological science at university and took evolutionary biology as a subject in her third year. At the time, she had no idea that the professors teaching her genetics and evolution were some of the most esteemed evolutionary biologists of their generation.

Their lectures explained the fundamental and cutting-edge science of genetics through time. 

She sat up and listened. And the impact of those lectures has never left her. 

She went on to do honours and her PhD in a lab of one of those professors. Her time in that research lab provided her with the experience of learning from exceptional PhD students, postdoctoral researchers and visiting professors, some of whom quite literally ‘wrote the book’ on evolutionary biology.

As we approach this year’s International Women’s Day we are shining a spotlight on Michelle’s career and philosophies.

Since her PhD she has established a research career in exploring the ‘dark’ (undescribed) biodiversity of animals that live in groundwater dependent ecosystems including subterranean animals adapted to life underground. These animals often have no eyes or colour pigment, for example.  

Many of these ecosystems are under immediate threat from mining and agriculture. 

The natural progression of this work has been fostering and directing environmental genomics science alongside environmental stakeholders, regulators, and industry to help improve our understanding of threatened ecosystems and their management through environmental policy. 

She has established herself as a research leader of a national multi-institutional and multi-disciplinary collaborative research team using innovative genetic technologies to achieve conservation management solutions for high value threatened ecological communities.

They are currently using the principals of environmental DNA (eDNA) - tiny fragments of DNA that are shed into the environment from organisms. These fragments of genetic material provide a genetic signature of what is present in the environment at any given time, and they can detect organisms in their environment without physically catching them. 

Using genomic technologies, they are establishing new and innovative genomic biomonitoring markers for describing and monitoring high value endangered species as well as ecological communities.

What does she love about working in STEM and her chosen field? 

I have a job where I make new discoveries, almost every day, that will have a real-world impact on the conservation of highly endangered ecological communities. Also, with my experience and knowledge I can manage and mentor my teams to bring forward a new generation of talented researchers.

Is there certain advice that she would give her younger self as she began her studies?

STEM is rarely a linear path for women. Make sure you ask for what you need and always know your value. Listen carefully to mentors. Trust your core beliefs of hard work, tenacity, and community. Also, have fun because there needs to be a balance to the effort you invest into your work.

Is there a training opportunity (personal or professional) that she would like to attend?

Academic leadership training. I am a strong and empathetic leader but insight into how to bring out the very best in people is critical to effective leadership and I would like to learn more.

What has she achieved in her career that she is particularly proud of?

I have built long-term partnerships with industry, policy stakeholders and been able to effectively articulate to funding agencies that innovative genomic technologies will contribute to a real change in guidance and environmental monitoring of rare and endangered species.

How does she unwind?

I love reading but don’t have a lot of time for it. I enjoy hiking and hanging out with my family.

Let’s hope hiking and hanging out with her family give Michelle the dose of fun that she needs, because the effort she puts towards her workload is significant. 

Not surprisingly, her hard work is already having an impact.  

Thanks Michelle. From us and the endangered species!

Tagged in Women in STEM, Research, School of Biological Sciences, Evolutionary Biology, Environment Institute