Going Down to Hobart: Dr Hannah Thompson joins Real Scientists

One of the things we really love about Real Scientists is that we, along with the community, get a feel for what it’s like to be in other fields of science, or to be someone who started out with a science degree and didn’t end up in research, or a clinician like Dr Yarwood who hosted last week, or someone who’s made the transition out of research into other work that’s still based in science. ¬†This week, we’re delighted to host Dr Hannah Thompson/@halften, an agricultural plant pathologist who hails from Tasmania.
We asked Hannah our usual set of questions to get to know her better. Rather than clumsily paraphrasing, here is Dr Thompson in her own excellent words:
1. How did you end up in science?

I think I was always going to go into science. I loved science in primary school (I still remember dissecting cow eyeballs in grade 4), I took extra science in high school and my pre-tertiary subjects were all science with the exception of music. I’m definitely wired for that way of thinking, and I was very lucky to be surrounded by people who supported and encouraged me in my path.

2. What got you into agricultural plant pathology?
I did my undergrad in Ag Science because it seemed like science with a purpose. I’d grown up in semi-rural Tasmania, my family was involved in agriculture, and it was the natural choice for me. Ag Science meant I could end up in anything really, from practical farming to business to the most complicated of molecular biology (am I selling the degree?). I hated animal science though, and loved microbiology. Micro labs are great fun – they involve fire, microscopes, dye, autoclaves, deadly bacteria… what more could you want? But microbiology in itself didn’t grab my desire for my work to have a practical aspect – I want to help to make sure people have enough to eat essentially. Plant pathology meant I got to play with bacteria, flame all the instruments I wanted, and make a difference for food production. It’s a fascinating area that involves so many things – biosecurity, epidemiology, evolution, plant/microorganism/chemical interactions, soil ecology, plant and microorganism genetics and more.
That said I almost fell into the field. When I chose an honours project the plant pathology one stuck out as being the most interesting. I had great supervisors who took me on for a PhD in the same area.
3. What is it about plants that fascinate you?

I don’t think I am necessarily fascinated by plants. I don’t see myself as one of those tv scientists who can real off facts about their topic with a one track mind. Of course I am interested in plants, particularly how they interact with their environment – with the soil and water and organisms around them – and how their genetics can affect their growth and these interactions so much, but primarily plants are a means to an end. Plants are our primary source of food and fibre, and science is a great tool that allows us to maximise our production of these while minimising harm on our environment and ensuring our food is sustainable. Improving plant production is also one of the best ways to improve the quality of life in developing countries.

4. Do you have any hobbies?

Music, travel and food. I recently returned from six weeks in Europe, visiting my other love – Iceland, and making friends with and in Greece and Spain. I spent far too much money travelling, but I can’t do without a trip to plan. Music is the reason I started travelling, and I very rarely travel without at least one gig in my itinerary. I play the ukulele, piano and clarinet, I accidentally started a choir a couple of years ago, I’ve dabbled in songwriting and I have been known to stare lovingly at my turntable. I lugged a bag of vinyl albums back from Iceland because I just had to have them. And lastly food! It’s my work, my interest, my passion. I cook everything, I use words like microherbs, I make friends with tiny producers and I instagram and tweet my breakfasts a lot.[Ed: One of Us! One of us!]

And finally:

I was born in Hobart and have lived here my entire life. Though I do move in 2 months to take up a new job – pretty terrifying! I did my BAgrSc and PhD at UTAS. I don’t currently work in research, but in “alt ac” – alternative academia, supporting graduate research candidates and supervisors. My new job will be in agriculture, but in the policy side of things. I’m currently trying to deal with leaving research and using my science background to make a difference elsewhere. I won’t have any current experiments to share, but I am going to use the week to encourage me to finally submit that paper I’ve been meaning to finish – I may have left research but I haven’t really left research yet.

Please welcome Hannah to Real Scientists!

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