Mum’s the best – Top scientist mum thrives on hectic life

Friday was International Day of Women and Girls in Science, and the Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture (TIA) is highlighting the significant contribution that female researchers make in supporting the agricultural industry.

Dr Tamieka Pearce is a Research Fellow at TIA who specialises in genetics and molecular plant pathology.

She is also a mum to two young boys aged one and three, and together with her husband, Lachy, runs a cattle stud at South Riana.

A self-confessed “science nerd”, Dr Pearce has always had her sights on a career in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics and medicine (STEMM).

In 2008 she was accepted to study Medical Research at the University of Tasmania but later transitioned to study Agricultural Science with Honours (while retaining units in biotechnology and genetics).

“Science was always the pathway that I wanted to follow,” Dr Pearce said.

She returned home to the North-West Coast to study her honours project on pyrethrum, under the supervision of TIA Plant Pathologist Dr Jason Scott.

She then briefly worked at Tasmanian Alkaloids before starting a PhD project to better understand and help growers to manage tan spot, a disease which was an emerging threat to the pyrethrum industry at the time.

Ten years later, the 32-yearold continues to conduct important and research to support the pyrethrum industry Dr Pearce acknowledges the challenge of returning to work after having children and the juggling act that comes from being a scientist, a mother, a farmer, and taking on volunteer roles within the industry.

“Being a working mum in general is hard. Working in science comes with its own challenges as when you are working part-time, which many women do after having children, you don’t have the same amount of time to get papers written which makes it hard when you apply for research grants.,” she said.

“The major challenge that I’ve faced has been dropping back to part-time hours after having children and learning to adjust the expectations that I put on myself.”

Currently, Dr Pearce is working on three research projects to support the pyrethrum industry.

Through one of these projects, Dr Pearce is investigating the genetics of pyrethrum vernalisation with a long-term goal of providing industry with a mechanism to shorten the crop cycle of pyrethrum from 18 months to 12 months.

“There are so many potential benefits for pyrethrum growers if we can identify a way to create a shorter crop cycle. Growers may be able to grow an extra crop in their rotation and reduce weed pressure, which we hope will decrease the risk of the development of fungicide resistance,” Dr Pearce said.

Dr Pearce’s advice to women considering a career in agricultural science is to get out there and give it a try.

“Until you try something you don’t really know if you will enjoy it. Get in contact with someone working in the industry and organise to have a day in the lab or out on a farm. Science is versatile and there are so many options for where you can go,” she said.

Published by Jemima Hamer

Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture