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Geneticist in Veterinary Science

Kathy Belov is a Researcher in the Faculty of Veterinary Science at The University of Sydney.

She recently won the Australian Museum Eureka Prizes People's Choice Award.


In which area or areas of science do you work? How did you first become interested in this career? How long did it take to get the necessary qualifications?
How has your career progressed? What are the tasks that you do in a typical day? What skills do you use in your job?
What is the most exciting aspect of your job? What do you like least about your job? What are some alternative jobs that you would be qualified for?
What are some of the advantages of working in this field? What are some of the disadvantages of working in this field? How has your work contributed to science?
How has your work benefited society? Where do you see yourself in five years time? Find out more about Kathy's work with the Tasmanian Devil

In which area or areas of science do you work?

Genetics of the immune response

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How did you first become interested in this career?

I hate to admit it - but I kind of fell into this area. After my honours degree I worked in a lab that focused on marsupial population genetics. The work involved lots of genotyping (which was quite boring). My supervisor mentioned that a colleague of his believed that marsupials had a primitive immune response. I thought that was a silly notion - because most of them look pretty healthy to me… so I went about trying to prove him wrong. Ever since I have focused on immune genes and immunological fitness of our native wildlife.

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How long did it take you to get the necessary qualifications?

I did a Bachelor of Science degree majoring in Genetics and Molecular Biology, followed by Honours, followed by a PhD in Genetics. All my study was done at Macquarie University.

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How has your career progressed?

It has been a whirl-wind. It has been so exciting - never a dull moment. After my PhD, I got an ARC Postdoctoral fellowship and spent 3 years at the Australian Museum working on monotreme immune genes. Then I got a University of Sydney Postdoctoral Fellowship to continue my research. Then I landed a teaching position in the Faculty of Veterinary Science at the University of Sydney, and have progressed through the ranks - lecturer, senior lecturer and now associate professor. I have recently been awarded an ARC Future Fellowship which allows me to focus on my research full-time for the next 4 years.

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What are the tasks that you do in a typical day?

Every day is an adventure! I spend a lot of time interacting with collaborators (from all over the world). I work closely with my research students - who are absolute superstars! I do lots of outreach work - talking to school kids, the general public and the media about the significance of our research. I am even organising a rock concert - Devil Rock to raise funds to save the Tasmanian devil. Some days I go out to zoos to collect samples from animals. Occasionally I get to do some lab work (I don't get to do enough of that). I also enjoy teaching undergrads in the vet faculty. I travel a lot - both within Australia and internationally. I regularly present at conferences.

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What skills do you use in your job?

Molecular biology, lots of writing, lots of communicating

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What is the most exciting aspect of your job?

Making breakthroughs that make a difference. My group discovered why a contagious cancer is decimating our Tasmanian devils. Now we can use that information to try to save a species from extinction.

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What do you enjoy least about your job?

Academic life can be quite demanding. You have to juggle teaching, research and administration. Sometimes you can have too many balls in the air!!

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What are some alternative jobs that you would be qualified for?

Working at a museum or zoo, working in a biotech company, working as a science writer… there are lots of jobs out there for science graduates…

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What are some of the advantages to working in this field?

Really - we are paid to do a hobby. Research is fun. Every day is different. I certainly don't have a typical 9-5 job.

What are some of the disadvantages to working in this field?

It is very competitive. There isn't enough money out there for research, so to attract the funds - you need to be prepared to fight for them! If you aren't dedicated and prepared to work hard - do something different.

How has your work contributed to science?

My work on genetic diversity in Australia's wildlife species is helping us to manage and conserve our species. My studies on marsupial and monotreme genomes are telling us a lot about how we evolved and more specifically how our immune system evolved.

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How has your work benefited society?

I am helping to save a species from extinction!! Exciting and daunting at the same time…

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Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?

I still want to be doing important research. By then, devil facial tumour disease (DFTD) will have spread across the entire range of the species. I hope that we will be in a position to understand enough about the disease and the devils themselves to be feeling confident that we can save the species from extinction.

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Find out more about Kathy's work with the Tasmanian Devil

If you wish to ask Kathy for additional information, you can email UniServe Science and we will contact Ron for you. Make sure you include Kathy's name and occupation in the Subject line.

Eureka Prize - details of Kathy's win and other prizes on offer - including those for students

Devil Rock - details of the concert to help raise funds to save the Tasmanian Devil and the reasons for this resesearch

Devil's Lair - resource site developed by UniSErve Science, with staff and studnets from Kathy's project team to support Devil Rock

 

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