Unique Scientist: Dr. Simone Blomberg

Time to meet Dr. Simone Blomberg (She/her)! Dr. Blomberg is a statistical evolutionary biologist at the School of Biological Sciences in the University of Queensland, Australia!

What kind of scientist are you?
I’m a statistical evolutionary biologist. My research sits at the intersection of evolutionary biology, systematics and statistics. I try to come up with new and better mathematical models of macroevolution and develop methods to fit them to data. I guess I’ve become more of a theoretician over the course of my career. I haven’t collected any of my own data since the 1990s! I am a senior lecturer at the School of Biological Sciences, University of Queensland (equivalent to assistant professor). I supervise several graduate students and my undergraduate teaching is in statistics, evolution and systematics but I am also the statistical consultant for our School: students and staff come to me for statistical advice. I also collaborate a lot with staff and students so I have a very diverse publication record. I have worked on camels, flamingos, lizards, cleaner fish, kangaroos, rainforests, the list goes on!

What made you want to become a scientist?
I have wanted to be a scientist from a very early age. I used to catch and keep lizards as a young child and I ended up doing my PhD on the ecology of lizards! I am fascinated by the natural world and I want to give scientists the concepts and methods with which to study it. The process of actually doing that is difficult but immensely rewarding. It requires a love of nature and also of mathematics and computing, and a commitment to the scientific method.

“I am fascinated by the natural world and I want to give scientists the concepts and methods with which to study it.”

Dr. Simone Blomberg

What makes you a #UniqueScientist?
I describe myself as a trans person. It seems like I have been in transition most of my life (I’m 53). I feel lucky in that I have experienced life from “both” sides, at least to some extent. I also have a mood disorder and I have been hospitalized a few times because of it. Being depressed has taken up a long period of my life, on and off, and has definitely affected my scientific productivity. It has also contributed to what I call my “nonlinear” career path.

What’s something cool you do outside of work?
I play bass guitar and I love music. I like everything from free jazz to punk rock! I have the ambition to play jazz on my bass but I am a fair way from that in terms of my skill level. I also practice Zen meditation which helps with my mood disorder and general well-being.

If you had one wish and could change anything in science, what would it be?
I think we need to promote women in science a lot more. In my lectures I often talk about the leading scientists who contributed to the field. I am always horrified by the large number of (mainly dead, white) men and the scarcity of women. Women do great work and need to be recognised. They need to be given the chance to shine and really go deeply into their field of research, as male researchers have traditionally had the privilege to do. I would also highlight the difficulty in maintaining a scientific career in the current economic climate, especially for women. I think kids need to be encouraged to do STEM subjects at school but it can be difficult to find a job as a scientist. Even a PhD is not enough. Funding is getting more scarce and difficult to obtain.

“[Women] need to be given the chance to shine and really go deeply into their field of research, as male researchers have traditionally had the privilege to do.”

Dr. Simone Blomberg

Who has inspired you the most in your journey to where you are now?
My dad was a maths/science highschool teacher. He is my main inspiration. I have also been inspired by many professors, advisors, mentors and colleagues over the years. During my undergraduate degree at Monash University (Melbourne, Australia) I had some lecturers who really blew my mind. I was blown away by the realisation that evolutionary theory was an active field of research. Darwin was the beginning but certainly not the end of evolutionary biology. I really wanted to do that! The intense vibrancy of the research program in evolutionary biology, systematics and statistics really attracts me. These fields are alive with controversy and highly sophisticated theory. Not at all dry and dusty! My advisor in my BSc Honours year (Monash University) was John Baldwin, who showed me that science can and should be fun. I was also inspired by Tony Lee, who is the grand old man of Australian mammalogy and a great evolutionary ecologist. And Mike Cullen, from whom I learned behavioural ecology. He was Richard Dawkins’ tutor at Oxford about the time that Dawkins was formulating his ideas which would eventually lead to The Selfish Gene. Mike had a big influence on Dawkins and so many other students. My PhD advisor was Rick Shine (U. Sydney), who continues to inspire me to do interesting research in evolutionary biology. My postdoc advisors, Ted Garland (UC Riverside) and Tony Ives (U. Wisconsin, Madison) inspire me to do more work in macroevolution and statistics.

Let’s end on a high note! What’s something you’ve done this week that you’re proud of?
I had a first-author paper accepted! I don’t have too many first-author papers so this was a big deal. It was the culmination of a big research effort over the past 4 years. I’m proud that I have finally seen it through to publication. Stay tuned for my appearance in a near-future issue of The American Naturalist!

#WomenInSTEM, #QueerInSTEM

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