Our next curator is Zarah Pattison, based in Scotland. Here’s her journey in her words.
I worked as a make-up artist from the age of 16, but in my early 20s I felt I needed more. I dreamed of working outside in a green Landrover Defender solving environmental issues and asking questions, but calling myself a scientist seemed a far flung dream. I took home study courses through the Open University whilst working full time, dedicating any spare time I had to learning. A compulsory weeks module involving lab and fieldwork made me realise that giving up my career and studying full time was the way forward. I loved the interaction with other students and lecturers that you couldn’t get from an online course. I never went through the traditional education route but worked hard to get myself a place at University where I began my scientific career and have not looked back since!
I initially chose to study Zoology, however a few modules in Plant Ecology changed my chosen path. I became fascinated with the interactions of plants, microbes and the communities they live in. I had one lecture on Invasion Biology in the second year of my degree and was totally hooked. Invasive species are so controversial and their impact is undeniable in many ways, whether economic or environmentally. Invasion Biology is still a relatively new field of scientific research which is faced paced and dynamic. I love it!
My broad research interests include responses of invasive alien plants to changes in climate and how this can indirectly impact native communities. I am also fascinated by the competitive effects between dominant native and invasive alien plants at varying spatial and temporal scales, how this differs and what can we do to manage it. My current postdoctoral research forms part of a UK wide project called Hydroscape. The aim of the project is to assess whether various levels of connectivity between water bodies (particularly lakes) and different levels of stressors (e.g. landcover use, point source contamination) interact to impact freshwaters across Britain. My task in the project involves a rather different organism, E.coli. E.coli is used as a fecal indicator organism to assess whether there is potential fecal contamination. I want to know how the abundance and presence of E.coli is affected by various levels of connectivity between the water bodies we are sampling and the types of stressors impacting those water bodies.
The research in both invasive species as well as my current work on pollution via fecal contamination is a poignant part of environmental research. Both invasive species and pollution are seen as stressors on freshwater systems. Freshwater is life and we rely on the use of clean, safe water in order to survive. Understanding the role of different stressors on such a precious resource is key in managing and preventing contamination and risk to the public. We need to keep our freshwaters healthy.
Since rescuing our staffordshire bullterrior, Ninja, from the Dogs Trust, I have become slightly obsessed with all things dog. I work as a volunteer for the Staffie Smiles Rescue charity which saves staffies from death row and places them up for adoption instead. This breed of dog is currently blighted by bad public stigma and I would like to have a part in changing that for the better.
Any hobbies? um…dog, dog, dog… and plant identification whenever we are walking the dog…
Ideal Day off: A walk in the hills with Ninja then head home for a braai (BBQ) with friends and family.
Please welcome Zarah to Real Scientists!