Diana is a Neuroscience PhD student at the University of Queensland, School of Biomedical Sciences. Her PhD focuses on the impact of maternal alcohol consumption around the time of conception and how it may affect long term cognitive outcomes to offspring later in life.
She is passionate about promoting STEM education and science to the public and has been part of the Wonder of Science Program since 2015. She is actively involved in science communication, as a regular contributor on the ABC science radio program ‘Ockham’s Razor’, as well taking part in panel discussions, National Science Week events and a range of other science events. She has also written for various online publications such as Australia's Skeptic Magazine, The Conversation and Lateral Magazine.
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What got you into science?
Growing up I always had an innate curiosity on how everything worked. From electricity, to light, to astronomy, and even the human body. I really wanted to learn about everything and I was lucky to have a family that nurtured my curiosity. My mum would buy me a new book or magazine on a new topic every week. At the time I didn’t necessarily realise that I wanted to be a scientist, nor did I realise that many of the topics I was enthusiastic about were all related to a career in science.
How does your research apply to day to day life?
Women are unknowingly consuming alcohol around the time of conception and prior to the recognition of pregnancy. Recent research is showing that the early developing embryo is highly responsive to environmental insult. Even if alcohol consumption may be outside the period of organ development, insults to the developing embryo can alter the trajectory of cells that will later form the various organs. I'm most interested in how this very early alcohol insult may impact behavior, learning/memory, neuronal receptors and key genes in the brain later in life. I think my area of research further reiterates the important public health message of abstinence when planning a pregnancy, to continue to be heavily promoted.
What is the most challenging thing about your work?
Working in research can sometimes be quite challenging as there are many highs and lows. Sometimes there are days that experiments don’t work, or you come across a complex experiment that may take weeks to optimize. However, once these hurdles are overcome, the results outweigh the challenges.
Who is your favourite scientist and why?
Carl Sagan. I am still completely captured by his original Cosmos series. One part that has provided inspiration for me was when he presented an image taken by the 1990 Voyager One mission that displayed six planets, including Earth. It wasn’t the image that had such a profound effect on me, but the poetic allegory of the human condition with the phrase “pale blue dot”.
What does it mean to be a scientist and what do you love about being a scientist?
To constantly be inspired about the world around us, be encouraged to think outside the box, be inquisitive and problem solve. Things don't always go to plan in science, but being open to failures, constantly challenging yourself and always striving to push the boundaries is what makes being a scientist a rewarding career. For me, being a scientist is about being innovative, mentally challenged, pushing oneself mentally and coming up with the big ideas that will benefit the future of humankind. I love that my job isn't a typical 9 to 5 job and that every day is different. From day long surgeries, experimental work, keeping up with the latest literature in your field, analyzing data and conferences - it's never a boring day.