I first worked in ENV on an eight-month, fixed-term project in 1985 – it was my second postdoc appointment. Then I was lured back for a three-year position after working in the USA for 15 months and in the latter part of 2013 I found myself in the Vice Chancellors Office getting a 25 year service award! I am currently a Reader in Biological Oceanography (appointed July 2009), before that I had two consecutive five-year NERC Advanced Fellowships (1998-2009) and before that that a series of postdoc positions (1987-1998). To link to Gill's Staff Page, click here.
What inspired you to pursue a career in environmental sciences?
My PhD and first postdoc were mainly lab-based studies on cyanobacteria (microorganisms) found on mud in salt marshes.
Afterwards I wanted to move to Norwich for personal reasons and continue in research if at all possible, and that led me to get in contact with Brian Moss a former member of ENV faculty who worked on the Norfolk Broads system. I was in Norwich for a meeting of the British Pycological Society and Brian introduced me to Peter Liss. It turned out that Peter had some grant money and wanted to employ someone who knew how to grow algal cultures.
It was quite a change of subject area for me but it was challenging and enjoyable. Overall I think it was the newly opening marine trace gas research area that inspired me alongside the great team of people I have worked with here.
Who encouraged you along the way? (Who are your role models and heroes?)
A hard question – there are too many people to mention them all, but I will mention just a couple. My A Level Biology teacher awakened my interests in the microbial world and encouraged my application for a place at university.
Also David Jennings the Head of the Department of Botany at Liverpool University where I was a PhD student. He recognised my research potential and strongly encouraged me to apply for an initial NERC Fellowship. Without that I doubt I would have become a researcher.
There were also a few encounters with anti-heroes who influenced various decisions that I made along the way!
What do you most enjoy about your job?
Working with PhD students and postdocs, planting a research idea and seeing them run with it and make the most of it. Getting interesting data and seeing them through to publication.
It is also very satisfying when an undergraduate struggles with a topic or with the approach we are taking with a module, but comes back later to say that they realised it made sense and gave them skills that helped them to find a job.
What do you particularly appreciate or enjoy about working in ENV?
UEA's founding ethos was for large multidisciplinary departments to encourage interdisciplinary work and thinking ‘outside the box'. Having colleagues who are, for example, experts in atmospheric chemistry, ecology, physical oceanography, molecular biology, geology, EU policy etc, has made for really interesting collaborations. When people move away from ENV they often mention that they miss this.
What advice would you give someone thinking about a career in science?
If you have a passion for science and want to make it your career you have to work for it and also get yourself noticed. Build your confidence and use your ‘voice' – don't avoid giving oral presentations, ask questions after talks, network where you can and make your case on committees. You can celebrate what you do on paper, CVs, face-to-face etc without being arrogant.
If someone tells you that you can't do something, don't give up but take it as a challenge and be sure to grab opportunities when they come your way. These things are really important and especially so for women.
What are some of the most memorable moments of your career?
Opening the letter telling me that I had been awarded a five-year NERC Advanced Fellowship. It's hard to keep yourself funded long term on short term funding. The two NERC Advanced Fellowships I won allowed me the vital independence, flexibility of funding and time horizon I needed to consolidate my career. Importantly, they enabled me to apply for grants and PhD studentships in my own name. The second Fellowship led to my current faculty position.