International Women's Day: a day in the life of Sally-Ann Poulsen

To celebrate women in STEM this International Women's Day, we spoke to Sally-Ann Poulsen, Professor of Medicinal Chemistry and Chemical Biology, to find out what her typical day as a research scientist entails.

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Mar 04, 2018

Sally-Ann Poulsen

Professor of Medicinal Chemistry and Chemical Biology, Griffith Institute for Drug Discovery

A brief biography:

Sally-Ann is a Senior Research Leader at Griffith Institute for Drug Discovery (GRIDD; Griffith University, Brisbane, Australia), where she applies modern chemistry approaches to create new molecules as tools to address human disease. Her research goal is to discover new molecules, either as therapies where current therapies are not available or are not effective or as chemical probes that further contribute to understanding complex biology associated with cancer and infectious disease. 

A significant outcome of her research has been the development of chemical probes that enable researchers to track and visualize DNA synthesis across complex mammalian and parasitic systems. Without chemical probes these systems are otherwise ‘invisible’ to researchers. Her approach constitutes a critical advance in chemical biology capability as it overcomes limitations of existing probes, allowing greater applications in biology.

My alarm goes off…

No alarm necessary as I have always been a morning person. On a typical work day morning I have a quiet house for approximately 1 hour, while everyone else – my cat, dog, husband and sleepy-head teenagers – is still asleep. I have grown to really value this ‘quiet time’ as it allows clarity to map out my day ahead. I do take about 10 minutes each morning, whilst boiling eggs for breakfast, to catch up on Twitter. I joined Twitter a year ago and it has opened a window to connect to many amazing people, scientists and others, across the world. I like that everyone shares the little things, big things and important things every day that contribute to making the world a better place. Of course, when everyone gets up there is a burst of activity and chatter as we all get ready for the day ahead.

I’m responsible for…

As a university based senior researcher, a key responsibility and privilege is training PhD candidates and early career researchers. Scientists need to develop skills as problem-solvers, critical thinkers, effective communicators and innovators, above and beyond how to ‘run experiments’. My day-to-day is to ensure I provide the environment and opportunities for this training to occur so that the next generation of STEM professionals is well prepared to take their place in the ever-changing world.

My typical day…

As a research scientist my typical work can look like many things; teaching, research, event planning, outreach, communicating, reading and learning. These are all centered on the common thread of science and drug discovery. I enjoy the many ‘micro’ and not so ‘micro’ activities, where I contribute to GRIDD, to my University and to the discipline of chemistry more widely. There is never a dull moment and it is very satisfying to contribute to making the workplace a nice place to be.

The strangest thing that has happened…

GRIDD and Griffith University are set in a forest in the middle of Brisbane city. It is a stunning campus with wall-to-wall native trees. We have had some unexpected visits from wildlife, including snakes, kookaburras, bush turkeys, lizards, possums, spiders and even a wallaby, and the occasional koala. We share all these unusual visitor moments on Twitter @GRIDD_GU. Some of the visitors are more welcome than others!

The best part of my job…

The best part of being a scientist is driving new discoveries, which I hope will lead to future benefits for many. I am currently working to translate the discovery of a new molecule to a treatment for glioblastoma, which is the most common and most lethal primary brain cancer. I find it magic that I can seamlessly collaborate with other scientists on projects, despite working in different labs and even in different countries. On any given day, making a call to a collaborator on the other side of the world is not unusual, you just need to get the time difference working for you.

The worst part of my job…

The worst part of my job is the process of securing research funding. As a very limited resource, the awarding of research grant funds is a challenge and I am saddened to see excellent scientists, emerging and established, without the research funds needed to truly shine and create positive impact.

After work…

After work, my time is dedicated foremost to family life. I try to make time to take a walk with our dog, who is a valued member of the family and makes us all smile no matter what may be happening.

I always wanted to be…

I never considered anything other than to become a scientist

Who is your female role model/hero/inspirational woman?

Inspirational women in science abound. These women combine work, family and wider community commitments without a fuss and with exceptional results across all three. They all deserve to be acknowledged.

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