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#STEMStories: Dr Dezerae, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Australia

#STEMStories: Dr Dezerae, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Australia

1. Introduce yourself, who are you what do you do?

Hi, I’m Dezerae. I am currently a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Melbourne, where I work on understanding proteostasis – the fundamental machinery that keeps our cells healthy.

2. How did you arrive at this career (or point in your life/work)? Was it always something you knew you wanted to do?

When I was young, I wanted to be a “hacker” (but for the good guys!). An affinity for chemistry, mathematics and teaching meant that I gravitated to science instead. I was already making career decisions in early high school - I knew I wanted to study biomedical research, and that I wanted to do a PhD. But in all honesty, I knew very little about what the path was from a PhD to becoming a University 'teacher'. I found out much later that I am the classic definition of 'first-gen' - I was the first in my family to finish high school, the first to go to University and the very first to earn a doctorate. A few years later, and I am now learning bioinformatics to analyse my research results – combining computer programming with fundamental biomedical research, practically my dream job!

3. What about your job makes you jump out of bed in the morning, especially on those cold, dark mornings?

Every day is a chance to discover something that no-one else in the world knows. Sure, the wins are few and far between - but that feeling of pure discovery is what gets me out of bed on even the rainiest of days. Couple that with the chance to use cutting-edge technologies, the opportunity to train the next generation of researchers and the potential to answer questions of real value to humankind - what’s not to love!

4. What is your personal cure for stress or how do you raise your spirits in times of doubt? Can you share a Story?

Imposter Syndrome has been my long-term companion, meaning I have dealt with ever-present doubt for as long as I can remember. Unfortunately, I am yet to find a cure! Strategies for coping often revolve around self-confidence - I need to feel capable and as though I belong, whether that’s with a new nail colour or hours of preparatory reading and practice before an upcoming talk. Feeling prepared and in control definitely helps lift my spirits and keep those niggling doubts at bay.

5. Who is your role model? If no one, any thoughts on this?

I have been fortunate enough to have many role models and mentors throughout my (relatively short!) career, especially my wonderful PhD and post-doctoral supervisors. A few recent influences also come to mind, namely Dr Diana Stojanovski (University of Melbourne), Prof Jenny Martin (University of Wollongong), and Dr Liz Miller (MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology), who have shown me the wide and varied paths to becoming a compassionate and value-driven leader in fundamental scientific research.

6. What advice would you give to yourself if you could go back in time?

Revel in the freedom and privilege of taking your time. I was constantly pushing myself to be finished with my degrees. I never took the time to learn enough about what it was to be successful in an academic career (pro tip: it takes more than just pipetting!), nor to exploit the myriad of opportunities my University experience had to offer. If I could do it again, I would take every chance with open arms - even those that (in the short term) look like detours from my ultimate goal.

7. Top 3 tips for girls starting out in STEM?

  • Find your tribe - no matter what field or environment you go into, waste no time finding ‘your’ people. Find those who understand, normalise and share your experiences, and will be your support structure. Treasure them.
  • Build your brand - know who you are, what you want from your career and what you stand for. When people think of you, what do you want them to remember? Oh and don’t be afraid to share your authentic self with the world of social networking (you should definitely be on Twitter!).
  • “Be fearless in the pursuit of what sets your soul on fire” – Unknown. One of my favourite quotes, and a great reminder to put fear (from asking a silly question to the great unknowns of a scientific career) aside and pursue whatever it is that truly sparks your passion.

8. How do you measure your success?

Success for me is not about how many experiments I do, papers I publish, citations I gather, funding dollars I receive or conference talks I give. Instead, I measure my success in achieving the goals I set for myself, and my trainees. When they go on to thrive in their chosen path, I know that I have contributed all I can to their success and that this, in turn, is a success of my own.

9. Where can we find out more about your work?

I post regularly about my life and work as a postdoctoral research fellow at dezeraecox.com. For those by-the-numbers people, my detailed CV and publications are also available there.

10. Are you social? Will you share your Twitter handle, or LinkedIn profile, or Facebook so that young women can connect with you?

You can find me on Twitter @dezeraecox - I’m always happy to connect with aspiring #WomenInSTEM