There are a number of different and exciting pathways in a plant surveillance career. Careers in plant surveillance range from in field surveillance officers and crop scouts to research scientists and biometricians to surveillance managers and policy makers.
Urban Biosecurity Coordinator – Citrus
How did you choose your job? Or did it choose you?
I guess it chose me! I was looking for work and contacted Jess who I had worked with before. I asked if there were any opportunities in the world of biosecurity that she knew of…and the rest is history.
What does a typical day look like for you?
It varies a lot. Somedays I’m in front of my laptop; some days I’m preparing sticky trap kits for our Early Detector Network volunteers; some days I’m out and about visiting community gardens, Melb zoo, green waste transfer stations, etc setting up sticky traps; some days I’m running a booth at a plant festival/fair; and other days I’m travelling interstate to conduct targeted surveys or attend training.
How long have you worked in this area and what roles have you had previously?
I’ve been in my new role since July 2022 – so, 4.5 months. However, I’ve previously worked in biosecurity for about a year.
I previously worked as a Project Officer at DELWP – I was part of the Suburban Parks Program working on Co-Managed Park projects. Before that, I worked as a Program Officer (Molecular Scientist) where I was involved in various eDNA research projects related to biosecurity and agriculture. One of my projects was to develop eDNA diagnostics and field sampling techniques to detect exotic pests such as Brown Marmorated Stink Bugs. Prior to EnviroDNA, I was also working in research where my focus was on exotic agricultural crop pests at Cesar Australia. EnviroDNA is the sister company of Cesar Australia.
Before I made a giant leap to Science, I was working in Finance and IT in Singapore for 6 years. It was a completely different world!
What training/education have you received?
I have two bachelor’s degrees: 1) Bachelor of Commerce in Finance and e-Commerce from Curtin University; and 2) Bachelor of Science in Zoology and Genetics from University of Queensland. I also graduated with an Honours degree majoring in Pathological Sciences. My Honours project involved studying the process of transendocytosis and trogocytosis of immune checkpoint cells in Tasmanian Devils.
In terms of biosecurity and surveillance, I haven’t had much training. I had to learn a lot on the job when I was working at EnviroDNA. I recently attended the PestBlitz workshop in Adelaide which was very helpful. I intend to do more training including residential programs and complete all relevant PHA BOLT courses to do with biosecurity (particularly, diagnostics and surveillance).
What is your greatest career achievement?
When I was at EnviroDNA, I was also involved in business development. I sourced a potential research project, led a collaborative team, coordinated the writing process for the grant proposal (I also was involved in writing); and subsequently won the research grant worth $674,000. The research project was called, ‘AW020: Smart Technologies for Biosecurity Surveillance’. The grant was awarded by Sugar Research Australia (SRA).
How do you see your role changing/improving in the next 2-4 years?
I hope that with more experience, I will be able to build a more solid foundation when it comes to diagnostics and surveillance (and not just focusing on citrus pests). I see that my role will involve coordinating surveillance activities with more stakeholders in the future across urban areas in Southern Australia as well as conducting education/training activities with community gardens, schools (primary and secondary level), tertiary institutions, etc. In saying this, my role will significantly change and improve once I’ve established more relationships with key stakeholders. These stakeholders will play an important role in either one or more areas of surveillance; education and training; and communication/engagement support. Additionally, once I’ve expanded and established the Early Detector Network, I hope that the coordination of volunteers every Spring and Autumn for the next 2-4 years will be easier and manageable.
I also love to illustrate, so I hope that I will be able to improve and use my skills when it comes to creating educational/training materials
What advice would you give anyone starting or changing their career?
My advice is that when you’re starting a new role or changing your career, ask yourself why you’re doing it and what you hope to achieve (personally and professionally). When you’re having lots of doubt; or feeling scared, anxious and inadequate, tell yourself that it is normal. We are always our own worst critics. We get better at what we do through time, experience, exposure, training, and repetition. One of the biggest things I’ve learnt so far is that, in order to grow, one has to do things that they’re uncomfortable with. Confidence comes after discomfort. And lastly, not to compare yourself with your peers (who have had years of experience) – be kind to yourself.