Research Group Leader
1. What fascinates you most about plant science?
It’s got to be the incredible capacity of plants to monitor and process changes in their environment. More specifically, the decision making (tunability) of plants (which generally can’t move around) in responding to different stresses. How plants have evolved mechanisms to utilize their environments and detect friend from foe is, I think, one of the most fascinating aspects in biology.
2. Tell us briefly what scientific questions you are pursuing at MPIPZ
Much of the work in my lab focusses on understanding how plants combat attack by disease-causing microbes (such as bacteria and fungi). Plants rely on receptors that are expressed in individual cells to detect pathogens and mobilize defences. It’s interesting that this same ‘innate immunity’ capability is also very important for humans to fight off infection, and there are many useful parallels, even though mammals can additionally make antibodies which provide long-term protection. We’re also interested in tackling the other side of the plant-microbe coin – which is understanding communication between a plant host and beneficial microbes that sometimes colonize plants and can build a relationship which helps protect the plant from disease.
3. What/who has inspired you greatly in your career so far?
As a student I was a bit squeamish about dealing with animals in research so maybe that steered me towards plants. I never looked back and realized plants have so many unique features to explore. What most inspired me was the originality of some scientists who are not afraid to think out of the box. These people are often not the loudest in a research community but their ideas can transform the way we view a problem.
4. What do/did you find most challenging in your career so far?
It’s hard work but if you’re interested in what you’re doing it is immensely satisfying. Probably most challenging was when I had two young kids as I was starting to build a small group. What made it manageable was flexi-time you have as a researcher compared to some other jobs. Another challenge I think is to assert yourself. I realized there were points in my career when I should have done this and didn’t. Another challenge is to know when to drop a project or direction. Again, there were times I did not do this against my gut instinct and that was a mistake.
5. What advice would you give to young female scientists?
I don’t think you should worry that having a family will reduce your career options. Spending weekends with kids and forgetting research can be a great energizer for work (especially as young kids are more exhausting). I think if you’re ambitious, curious and enjoy the challenge of tackling a scientific question, that is the main driver. It’s good to establish a research niche you can focus and build on. I think I was most efficient when it was just me, a TA, a PhD student and a postdoc as the team.