Meet Amy Bottomley, a microbiologist working out how bacteria grow and divide!

What is your scientific background?

I studied microbiology as my Bachelor of Science at the University of Glasgow, UK, and continued on to do a PhD in microbiology at the University of Sheffield, UK.  I completed a short postdoctoral position in Sheffield developing microscopy techniques before taking the plunge and moving overseas to Sydney, Australia in 2012.  I have been working as a Research Fellow at the i3 institute at the University of Technology Sydney ever since, where I continue to research how bacteria grow and divide in different environments.

Why did you choose to become a scientist?

I have always been observant and focused on details, so the chance to explore my curiosity of how the world works really appeals to me!  When I was a child I don’t think I realised I could be a scientist as an actual job, but when I was around 10 I was selected to attend a Women in STEMM workshop.  It was run by female scientists and engineers and we spent two days doing fun activities like building rockets.  It was at that point that I knew I wanted to do something science-based when I grew up!

How did you choose your field of study?

I originally applied to study human anatomy as my Bachelor of Science, but I was lucky that the degree structure at Glasgow University was flexible and diverse.  When I was there I found myself enjoying the microbiology lectures the most, so I swapped to studying this.  During my PhD, my grandfather became seriously ill from a ‘superbug’ infection, and it really made me realise the importance of studying bacteria to try and find new antibiotics to treat infections.

Did you ever doubt your abilities as a scientist?  Why?  How did you handle these feelings?

All the time, and still do!  Being a junior scientist in an environment where everyone is a high achiever is sometimes daunting to feel like I belong here!  Having a strong support system with my peers really helps, and I have been involved in establishing an association for early career researchers within our faculty to improve community spirit.  I also have a great mentor who gives sage advice about my capabilities and encourages me to push myself.

How does your family regard your career choice?

I was the first in my immediate family to attend University and complete a PhD, and my family have always been proud of my academic achievements – especially my grandparents.  They definitely think it’s cool that I am a scientist, but because my research is based on fundamental understanding of basic biological processes, it can be hard for them to understand the application of my work.  I hope that as a scientific community we can improve our communication to the general public about the importance of research!

If you had the option to give advice to a younger version of yourself, what would that be?

Believe in yourself! And just do it!