Eight legs to hold you: welcome Dr Maggie Hardy to RealScientists!


Meet Dr Maggie Hardy (@DrMaggieHardy), biochemist and entomologist, and our curator for this week on @RealScientists. Originally from Boston, Massachusetts in the United States, Maggie is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Division of Chemistry and Structural Biology at The University of Queensland in the Institute for Molecular Bioscience (IMB). Her research program is based in insecticide discovery, with a particular focus on biosecurity and sustainable agriculture. One of the really cool things she works on is discovering novel environmentally-friendly insecticides from the venom of Australian spiders. This means, for the arachnophobes amongst you, that Maggie will be sharing the occasional spider image this week; if this is likely to trouble you, be reassured Maggie will be tweeting warnings beforehand. If you find it necessary to mute or to switch off image previews, we’ll totally understand.


Why/How did you end up in science?

I finished my PhD in 2011, four years after I started. Although originally from New England, I earned my MSc in Entomology from the University of Hawai’i at Manoa in 2007. I moved to Brisbane, in Queensland, Australia, that August to start my PhD. I met my husband, a Queenslander, not long after arriving in Brisbane and we married in 2010; I finished my PhD in 2011; in 2012, I gave birth to our twins; and, in 2013 I received an independent research fellowship.

The main thing that got me interested in science was volunteering at the Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut from age 12 to 21 (when I finished college). I think you had to be 14 to work with the marine mammals, and so I started working with the fish and invertebrates. Working at the Aquarium helped me realize I didn’t want to do husbandry, I wanted to do research. But I still love sharks and inverts! But marine work is so competitive, which the good folks at the Aquarium gave me the pro tip on.

After a brief stint working with birds for my Honors project, I decided I wanted to study entomology (insects) in graduate school. I got into a few graduate programs, but when the offer came through for a fully-funded place at The University of Hawai’i at Manoa in the Entomology Program I lept at the opportunity. I decided I hadn’t moved far enough west yet, so I continued my adventure to Brisbane. I met my husband in Brisbane (at a wine tasting, no less), and he’s a Queenslander through and through.

TL;DR I ended up in science because it’s awesome.

Why did you choose your current field/what keeps you there?

I love invertebrates, and frankly the entomology/arachnology community is fantastic.

SpideyBefore I finished my PhD I had started applying for grants. I liked Brisbane, and my project wasn’t quite wrapped up so I thought we had a shot at obtaining more funding. Science communication has always been a passion of mine (see my role in founding the Institute for Molecular Bioscience Science Ambassador Program), but until 2010 I considered it extracurricular. Meaning valuable, but not part of my core work. Just before I got married I had a request for a radio interview, and as it turned out a business development manager from the same industry had been listening in. My PhD supervisor and I wrote a grant together with that industry partner, and in 2011 our grant was awarded. After I finished my PhD, I started as a postdoctoral research fellow on the project.

Even though my salary I was funded through 2014, I kept applying for fellowships because I wanted to start my independent research career. In 2012, I had a set of twins and took 18 weeks of maternity leave. When I returned to work it was nights and weekends at first, and then one, two, and later three days a week. During that time, we filed the provisional patents on the intellectual property created during the course of my PhD, I finished off a few papers, and continued to write fellowship applications. In 2013, I received a University of Queensland Postdoctoral Research Fellowship for Women, a full-time fellowship awarded to women “whose academic careers have been interrupted, delayed, or otherwise constrained by family or other responsibilities.”

TL;DR I’ve stayed in science because I have had some interesting intellectual property come out of my project, and I have mad skills (luck?) with grants and publications. And my research institute lets me keep both sides of my brain working (and they value my engagement work), which is awesome.

Tell us about your work.

Originally from Boston, Massachusetts in the United States, I am a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Division of Chemistry and Structural Biology at The University of Queensland in the Institute for Molecular Bioscience (IMB). My research program is focused on insecticide discovery, with a particular focus on biosecurity and sustainable agriculture. I earned my MSc in Entomology from The University of Hawai’i in 2007, where I examined the physiology of boron toxicity in subterranean termites. I earned my PhD at the IMB in 2011, and my dissertation focused on discovering and characterizing novel insecticides from the venom of native Australian spiders — including funnel-webs and tarantulas. In the course of my research we discovered a suite of orally active insecticidal peptides from the venom of a native Australian tarantula, which could become new tools for environmentally friendly insect pest management. In 2012, we filed patents on the technology created during my PhD, and my research still has a heavily applied angle.

Here is a full list of my scholarly publications: https://scholar.google.com.au/citations?user=Btc69bYAAAAJ&hl=en

Here is a full list of my outreach publications: http://muckrack.com/drmaggiehardy/portfolio


Do you have any interesting external/extracurricular obligations?

Bringing science to the public is one of my passions. As a PhD student at the IMB, I founded the IMB Science Ambassador Program to train early career researchers in speaking to the public, to the media, and to funders. In 2008, I was selected as one of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering’s Young Science Ambassadors, where I spoke to high school students and stakeholders in Outback Queensland, and as one of the Queensland Government’s Talking Scientists, for which I appeared at community groups statewide and was an invited speaker at the 2009 Queensland Parliament’s Science in Parliament. In 2014 I was named one of The Analytical Scientist’s “Top 40 Under 40.” I am also an advocate for evidence-based science policy and the importance of science engagement, and increasing the proportion of traditionally underrepresented groups in higher education and careers in research is central to my work. In addition to my research, I am a wife and mother.

I am a member of the following organizations:


Any interesting hobbies you’d like to share?

My extracurriculars are my hobbies… unless you consider Professional Toddler Wrangler/Proud Mom of 3 kids under 3 years as a “hobby.” I understand you can stop doing your hobbies whenever you want though, so the answer is probably a “no” at the moment.

How would you describe your ideal day off?

It’s a Friday. Some amazing results come in from the lab in the morning so I get to knock off early, and my husband gets a half-day because of the rain. The kids are still in daycare so we go to see a movie in Gold Class. We pick up the kids, have a meal as a family that doesn’t result in our dining room table being classed as an EPA Superfund Site-level disaster, and they are blissfully asleep by 7pm. We enjoy a glass of wine and some conversation, and watch the moon come up.


Thanks Maggie, welcome to RealScientists and have a great time this week!



James is a recovering scientist and escaped postdoc who works in research management at the University of Otago, New Zealand. He's now retired from active @RealScientists duty, after serving from the project's beginnings in 2013 through to mid 2015. When not managing research, surviving #PlanetParenthood or pretending not to be an expat Australian in the Deep South of NZ, he tweets @theotherdrsmith.

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