Categories: Sanger Life7 October 20223.8 min read

I Am A Biologist

This biology week, run by the Royal Society of Biology, celebrates the amazing worlds of bioscience. We asked some of our staff to tell us about their work, and why they love biology.

Physilia Chua, Postdoctoral Researcher

My pathway to becoming a researcher was not a traditional one. After seven years of being lab-trained, after my Bachelor’s degree I decided to hang up my lab coat and instead work as an aquarist. I was diving with sharks and manta rays on a daily basis in an aquarium. As fun as it sounds, the labour-intensive nature of the job made me realise that it was not sustainable and that I needed a more intellectually stimulating environment. By veering off-course for a while, I rediscovered my curiosity for science. This had me jetting off halfway round the world to embark on a Master’s degree in Germany – I have been in Europe for eight years now and have not looked back.

Currently, I am a postdoctoral researcher on the BIOSCAN project, where I am using DNA methodologies to discover and reveal UK insect diversity and its interactions with the environment. Being at Sanger has given me the opportunity to meet other like-minded scientists and the multi-diverse culture here is conducive for people from minority backgrounds like myself (South-East Asian LGBTQ women in Science) to excel.

Nicola Chapman, Wildlife and Environmental Law Adviser

I grew up living by the sea, and initially wanted to become a vet, before watching a David Attenborough programme on coral reefs.

Knowing that there was a completely different world under the water, with diverse species, was deeply fascinating for me. Hence I am a marine biologist by trade, I have a PhD in rare marine reefs and in my early career I undertook coral surveys in Belize and the Philippines. Later I worked in government, creating and advising on policies for protected species and habitats. Since then I have led marine and terrestrial projects and programmes in Mauritius, Liberia, Guinea and Tanzania.

My studies and career have given me a breadth and depth of knowledge of protected species and habitats & UK and international wildlife legislation. In my role in the Tree of Life Programme at the Sanger Institute I lead a team to advise UK and global partners on wildlife sample acquisition. I ensure that collected wildlife samples comply with UK, European and international wildlife, environmental and importing laws. These laws focus on protected species, protected habitats, land access and how species are collected.

I love science as the ‘global we’ are constantly finding new species, and developing new monitoring methods e.g. drones for monitoring whale migrations and discovering new information about them. Science is also interconnected with supporting sustainable use of resources and ensuring a healthier planet on which to live.

Joana Meier, Group Leader and Royal Society University Research Fellow

I lead a research team at the Wellcome Sanger Institute. My team studies rapid adaptation and the rapid evolution of new species.

For our research it is important to embrace the complexity of nature while still aiming to identify generalisable processes and patterns. We investigate diverse organisms including butterflies, peacock spiders, cichlid fishes and wall lizards that show particularly fast-paced evolution. We study why and how they evolve faster than their close relatives. This question cannot be answered by looking at any single aspect of their evolution. It requires integrating across different subfields of biology which I enjoy very much. While my group mostly focuses on genomics, we combine it with sensory ecology, functional genetics and behavioural studies. Our work is a mixture of bioinformatics, fieldwork and labwork.

My research group is composed of diverse people with complementary methodological approaches. What unites them is a shared curiosity for the key research questions and commitment to collaborate with and learn from each other. As a group leader, I enjoy working together with the brilliant researchers in my group and facilitating their research and development. I am also lucky to have wonderful collaborators around the globe who contribute different knowledge and perspectives. Through organising conferences and online seminar series, I like to foster the exchange of ideas and knowledge more broadly in the scientific community. I am very grateful to have a job that I find interesting and inspiring.

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