Unique Scientist: Juniper Kiss

This is Unique Scientist Juniper Kiss who has just started as a PhD student in the UK.

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What kind of scientist are you?
I am just starting my PhD on disease control on bananas in Latin America.

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I have also worked with spinach, rice, oilseed rape, cereals and more troublesome, invasive plants in the UK, US, Philippines, and Nepal.

What made you want to become a scientist?
My favourite bedtime story was Gerald Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals book. Just like Gerald, I always felt like a detective, discovering the world day by day, turning over rocks and running around with microscopes. I started studying marine biology at university but after working in Nepal with farmers, I pursued a career in food security.

What makes you a #UniqueScientist?
I did not think that being a woman was any different than being a man – until I went to lots of conferences, meetings and became a person who puts up her hand and says “where are all the women?”. Recent publications about female scientists leaving academia after becoming parents and receiving less salary are good at highlighting a problem, yet more active solutions are needed.

Plant scientists have started a Diversify Plant Science initiative, where scientists can put down their contact details so event organisers can now have no excuse to find underrepresented plant scientists.

“I did not think that being a woman was any different than being a man – until I went to lots of conferences.”

Juniper Kiss
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What’s something cool you do outside of work?
I imagine myself joining Harley Davidson group rides, with a black leather jacket and a hairband with skulls on it. I say imagine, as I do not have a Driver’s License yet (#StudentLife).

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Other than imagining an alternate personality, I love traveling without making any plans or having Google Maps. Just enjoying the ride and meeting strangers.

I also love looking after the Plantae social media accounts (please follow @plantae_org!), reaching millions of people per month just about plant science stuff!

If you had one wish and could change anything in science, what would it be?
I wish academia would change. I have talked to over 100 PhD students in the past year, and only three of them said that they would like to stay in academia. The fact that university lecturers and professors have to do five people’s jobs, deal with admin and management, continuously looking for funding, and publishing only in the best journals – takes all the fun out of science.

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My one wish would be to make academia more fun – let scientists do what they are best at, allow them to work normal hours and magically make all science open access and accessible to the world.

Although it sounds like ‘a dream’, there are so many people working on these issues. I am an eLife Community Ambassador and it is so exciting to see hundreds of early career researchers from all sorts of scientific fields working on reproducibility, equality, anti-bullying, leadership, code sharing, and open science.

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Who has inspired you the most in your journey to where you are now?
Countless people – from my little brother, friends, colleagues, supervisors to random strangers in bus stops who said that science is cool. In terms of my journey to my banana PhD, my first undergraduate supervisor gave me the first couple of pushes while studying marine biology. I wanted to do a project on seashell morphology and he nudged me towards plants and I have not looked back ever since.

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As a ‘human being’, I have met the greatest people at that university who make me laugh at myself and never stop believing in me (why and how I still do not understand!). And one cannot forget to mention Sir David Attenborough, whom I had the chance to meet and attend one of his lectures where he pointed at me and said ‘You are the future. You can change the world’. I still get goosebumps.

Let’s end on a high note! What’s something you’ve done this week that you’re proud of?
I have just been to an International Banana Congress in Miami and after the fantastic conference, I visited a mangrove nature reserve. I spent five hours traveling and walking in the heat and upon arrival, I looked like I have just run a marathon. But it was definitely worth it, the mangrove ecosystem was – let’s use the scientific term – ‘Super Cool’!

#WomenInSTEM

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