Profile: Nina Koele (Events Assistant, International Society for Microbial Ecology)

Nina Koele

Name: Nina Koele

Job Role: Events Assistant

Organisation: International Society for Microbial Ecology (ISME)

Education Background:

  • MSc in Physical Geography
  • PhD in Soil Science

1. What inspired you to take up a career in the Geosciences?

Being interested in a wide range of subjects and wanting to travel to exotic places, I chose to study physical geography, as it combines all of the natural sciences. It also allows one to travel to all sorts of places and study interesting landscapes.

2. Can you give more detail about your path to your current job role?

The path to my current job was long and winding, but as such probably not unusual. I finished my studies with an internship for a nature conservancy in Canada looking at soil chemistry of a new nature reserve, and while there I also came into contact with forestry students and researchers. I became quite obsessed with sustainable forestry and forest soils, and tried to find a PhD in that field.

After a rather random internet-search I found a promising PhD position in Germany, as far as I could understand from the German job description; my German was pretty bad back then. Soon I found myself in Germany struggling with experimental design and local dialect. At the end of my PhD, three different people sent me the same job advertisement for a postdoc in New Zealand. The position seemed like a perfect fit, and although the telephone interview was largely obstructed by the bad connection, I was offered the position and we moved to New Zealand. The postdoc combined geochemical methods (Sr isotope ratios) with molecular soil fungi identification to trace nutrient cycles in forest ecosystems, above and belowground. New Zealand proved to be an amazing country to live in, the only downside being numerous earthquakes shaking the place where we lived (Christchurch). Unfortunately though through the rebuilding expenses of Christchurch after the 2011 earthquake and subsequent aftershocks, there was little research funding left, and we started looking for jobs elsewhere in the world.

My partner found a job in the Netherlands, and we moved there. I did some freelance educational and scientific work, and worked for a scientific publisher for a year. Working with scientific journals, Editors and publishing staff was fascinating, as it is a whole separate enormous (commercial!) world that you don’t know or understand as early-career scientist. I learned a lot about Open Access publishing, predatory journals, Impact Factors, project management and learned to communicate effectively and with a lot of diplomacy. However, research kept calling me, and I managed to do a short postdoc in Brazil, analysing carbon data from the Amazon and learning Portuguese as I went. Back in the Netherlands I then found a temporary job to assist in the organisation of a large conference. The last years have proven it to be challenging to find an interesting job in the same country as where my partner works, and we foresee this to remain a challenge in the future.

3. What does your current job role involve?

The organisation of a large (2000> delegates) scientific conference requires years of preparations, for which my colleagues are responsible. As the conference gets closer (in August this year) the organisation also peaks, with abstracts being submitted, registration opening, and the scheduling of scientific and social events. I am assisting mostly in the preparation of the book of Abstracts, registration (checking payments, asking for student verification, sending invitation letters), and various little tasks (such as ordering sweets from a local sweets-maker for the registration desk!).

4. What do you enjoy most about your job?

My current job doesn’t have very exciting tasks, and it is clearly an in-between-job. Having said that, I enjoy reading all the abstracts, learning about research that I otherwise wouldn’t know about, and I think it is a good skill to know how to organise a large event. My main goal of this job is to attend the conference, network and find another exciting research position.

5. Why do you think it’s important to encourage more girls into Geoscience?

Personally I cannot understand how anybody could want to do anything else than work in geosciences …! I think many girls are already taking up geosciences. At least from my experience, I didn’t notice there were less girls than boys studying geosciences or doing a PhD or postdoc in Geosciences. Nevertheless, I think more people in general should be interested in Geosciences as it studies the world we live in/on and with us pushing the boundaries of the planet, there will be more and more “conflicts” between geo-related hazards and people. Earthquakes, floods, landslides, soil degradation: these are all events that become more threatening with increasing world population and most of the hazardous land being densely populated.

6. If you could give a piece of advice to girls currently thinking about a career in the Geosciences, what would it be? 

Get out in the field, travel to inspiring landscapes, pay attention to the microscopic detail but never forget the big picture.

7. Where can we read more about your work and transcontinental migrations?

Through the years I kept blogs for my friends and family as I kept moving countries and doing interesting studies. I bundled some of those posts, and occasionally post about my perception of Geosciences here: soilmonster.blogspot.com


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