|Dr Thomaé Kakouli-Duarte is a lecturer in biosciences at the Institute of Technology, Carlow (ITC). She talked to Smart Futures about her career path so far.
What type of scientist are you?
I work in environmental research and focus on microscopic creatures called nematodes that live in the soil. We use nematodes as indicators of environmental change on soil health. They are also used as biological control agents. We also look at the genetic conservation of the bumblebee because bumblebee populations have major problems.
What are your main tasks?
I teach a number of modules at undergraduate level, including molecular genetics and immunology, cell biology, and ecology. I also supervise postgraduate students at masters and PhD level.
What’s a typical day?
Most of my day involves teaching undergraduates or seeing how the postgraduates are getting on with their research.
What is most interesting about your job?
Interacting with students and seeing them doing well is the best thing. The fulfilment you get from watching students progressing is unbelievable. I also really enjoy learning new things.
What are the main challenges?
To complete a PhD is not only a big challenge for the students but also for me, the supervisor. It’s a stamina race for the students and for us.
What subjects did you take in school?
Maths is very important for many scientific disciplines so I did it at higher level. I also took physics, chemistry and biology.
What courses or training did you do after school?
My first degree was a branch of agriculture called crop production. That was in Greece as I’m Greek by birth. Then I did an MSc in crop protection in the UK. I stayed in the University of Reading and did my PhD in biological control using nematodes.
After my PhD, I found a job for 10 months in molecular genetics in NUI Maynooth. That was a new discipline for me. Another contract appeared in Maynooth after this and I was there for three years. You can start somewhere in your career but you can take steps to diversify.
What advice would you give to someone considering this job?
Hard work pays. You just have to wait, be patient, focus and have long-term plans. Break these into smaller bits and do one thing at a time, but have a big target.
What inspires your love of science and the environment?
My father was a forester and he used to take me out to look at plants, animals and bugs. I think it’s a miracle the way our planet functions. Now that our planet is in need of protection, this drives me to do something about it.