Unique Scientist: Dr. Joanne Power

Say hello to parasitologist Dr. Joanne Power (She/her)! Joanne is an expert on malaria originally from Ireland currently conducting research at Pennsylvania State University in the USA!

What kind of scientist are you?
I am a molecular parasitologist who researches Plasmodium parasites, the type of parasite that causes malaria. I am currently at home in Ireland getting some much-needed rest after completing my PhD in molecular parasitology at the Wellcome Centre for Integrative Parasitology (WCIP) in Glasgow, Scotland. After five years in Scotland, I recently moved to the USA to begin postdoctoral research at Penn State University in the lab of Dr Scott Lindner, another malaria researcher. For four of the past five years in Scotland (the first year being a Masters of Research (MRes)), I studied the transmission stage of the malaria parasite. To put it simply, a human carries a Plasmodium infection inside their red blood cells (making them sick), but for the parasite to infect another person, it must be passed from an infected person into a female mosquito. Once the mosquito has taken up infected blood, it can then pass the infection on to a second person when it needs another ‘blood meal’. I worked on discovering how the parasites inside human blood prepare for development inside a mosquito, i.e. how the parasite is ‘transmitted’. For my post-doc, I am working in malaria transmission again — this time on how the parasite passes from the mosquito to a new human host!

What made you want to become a scientist?
I don’t remember one specific reason why I wanted to become a scientist. There were a number of reasons. I always loved learning, and still do. When I was a child, we had a collection of Encyclopaedia Britannica in the house, and I was constantly reading passages from them. We also had a few VHS videos about molecules and atoms (I have no idea from where!) and I would watch those with my brothers alongside animal documentaries. We were always outside in rural Ireland so I would collect bugs and find different kinds of fungi and look them up in a nature book that my parents had. One of my big influences was probably finding a cheap Encyclopaedia of Forensic Science in a bookshop when I was about 11 years old. I bought it and read it from cover to cover. From then on, I understood that science was a career and that the highest degree you could get was a ‘PhD’- and so I wanted one! I wanted a PhD in science!

“I’m not afraid to fight for more equality in academia and I am pretty blunt when it comes to describing bullying and harassment issues that I have come across while working in academic science.”

Dr. Joanne Power

What makes you a #UniqueScientist?
I’m a #UniqueScientist because I’m an Irish female parasitologist (still not the most common area of science) who is not afraid to be outspoken about my experience as a first-generation University student or my struggle with mental health issues during my studies. I’m not afraid to fight for more equality in academia and I am pretty blunt when it comes to describing bullying and harassment issues that I have come across while working in academic science. And I’m not afraid to admit when an experiment fails. I am just as happy to discuss what didn’t work in the lab as well as what did work and I’d love to see more negative results papers.

What’s something cool you do outside of work?
Hmmm… well a lot of my ‘free time’ is taken up with public engagement! I tweet about science pretty much every day. I write articles for blogs and online forums in terms that lay people can understand. I’ve been a STEM ambassador in the UK, I was the General Secretary for ‘ScienceGrrl Glasgow’ for over 3 years, and I run a website to promote #WomenInMalaria alongside Spanish malaria researcher Dr. Elena Gomez-Díaz. I am also a huge heavy metal fan! I always say that my two big goals in life were: 1. To see Rammstein in concert. And 2. Get a PhD. I’ve done both now! My concert-going bestie in Glasgow was another female PhD student (this time in Quantum Physics) called Araceli Venegas-Gomez! But I am interested in almost everything! I played Camogie (an Irish sport) as a teenager, I love yoga (especially Bikram Yoga), and I adore classical Russian literature!

If you had one wish and could change anything in science, what would it be?
I wish people were kinder to each other. In science, as in life. I wish Principal Investigators (PIs) treated students and post-docs better and I wish people would collaborate and not compete with each other. Just BE KIND. Oh- and open access, open access, OPEN ACCESS!!

“She [great-aunt, Josie Grace] was also extremely proud of her heritage and made me feel really proud to be who I am. […] I got to tell her that I would be the first ‘Dr. Power’ in the family.”

Dr. Joanne Power

Who has inspired you the most in your journey to where you are now?
I was always driven more by love of science than by inspiration for another person. But if I were to mention anyone, it would probably be my great-aunt, Josie Grace. Josie was a teacher and she genuinely loved teaching. She was also extremely proud of her heritage and made me feel really proud to be who I am. She was born in Ireland in 1917 and lived until she was 97 and a half! She passed away just after I finished my Masters and started my PhD in September, 2014. But I got to tell her that I would be the first ‘Dr. Power’ in the family. She shook both of my hands with both of hers when I told her that. And though she never saw the finished PhD thesis, it’s dedicated to Johanna ‘Josie’ Grace (née Power).

Let’s end on a high note! What’s something you’ve done this week that you’re proud of?
This week, I registered for (and submitted an abstract to) the 30th Molecular Parasitology Meeting (MPMXXX) in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, which will be in September this year (2019). As usual, I will live-tweet the entire event for people who can’t make it and write a summary/blog of highlights to share. I also finally finished all of my visa paperwork for my post-doc and had my interview at the US embassy in Ireland. I probably did other things but I’m still a bit tired after another conference just over a week ago (BioMalPar 2019 in Heidelberg, Germany) and so I might be forgetting something! I also took time to rest and spend time with family, including my now-2-week-old niece! So I’m proud that I’ve taken time for myself (it took me a while to learn how to do that too!).


#WomenInSTEM

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