Category Archives: Confessions of a Microbiologist

” The Juggling Microbiologist”

What a year 2017 has been!

First and foremost, a new addition to the family. I wasn’t expecting that at the start of the year! Even more unexpected was the fact she needed emergency heart surgery at two weeks of age. A stressful time for everyone, and it definitely put work in perspective . As you can see however, she is now thriving.

Baby Isobel

I also managed to travel to a few new countries:- Austria, Hungary and New Caledonia. Each one was interesting in their own way. It is great to have the opportunity to visit new places, and experience different cultures.

And on top of all that, a new job!

Never being one to turn down a challenge, I have recently accepted a part-time job at the national Public Health microbiology laboratory in New Zealand. This means I now have two jobs, one that is focused on diagnostic microbiology, the other on Public Health microbiology (surveillance, typing, etc.).

It is a good mix, but you are right, I am a complete sucker for punishment…!

However, the main upside to having two jobs is variety. I have worked solely as a diagnostic clinical microbiologist for 11 years now. Same place, same job, day after day, week after week, month after month. I was slowly but surely becoming institutionalised. Change was badly needed, and this new post has given me that change. The learning curve will be steep, and the dynamics and politics of my new workplace will need to be learnt over the forthcoming months. I am looking forward to building lots of new working relationships.

Change is good.

The main downside of having two part-time jobs is that they might be part-time on paper, but full-time in reality! I will need to be very careful not to fall into that trap. Over the years I have seen many “martyrs” do full-time jobs on part-time wages. I always promised myself that would never happen to me.

I will need strong resolve to keep that promise.

So now I am juggling two jobs and a family of eight! As a consequence I will need to be utterly ruthless with regards to time management. I am looking forward to the challenge nevertheless.  Thankfully I am still young(ish), and hopefully I will be able to cope.

Is it sustainable in the long term? Who knows?

What I do know is that nothing is forever…

I suspect 2018 will be an interesting and challenging year, and like 2017, will hopefully bring a surprise or two.

This year, I am just going to relax, keep myself mentally and physically healthy, and juggle the very best I can.

Happy New Year!


“Putting your job into perspective”

My baby daughter recently had open heart surgery at just two weeks of age, to repair a serious congenital heart defect (Tetralogy of Fallot). She was desperately sick in the days leading up to the surgery, and required several weeks of convalescence afterwards.

They don’t like doing open heart surgery at such a young age, but decided that this was the lesser of the evils…

On the day of the surgery she was really struggling, despite being in intensive care on maximal therapy. I never thought I would be glad to see my daughter wheeled off to theatre to be put on cardiac bypass.

Fortunately everything went well, and she is now 10 weeks old. She is doing all the things that 10 week old babies should be doing. Except for the scar on her chest, you would not even know what she has been through.

She is, quite literally, a little miracle.

Now things are getting back to normal. I am back at work, and able to think clearly again.

During the long days and nights in the neonatal intensive care unit, my microbiology job was the furthest thing from my mind.

But the whole experience has helped me put my job, and to a large extent my career into perspective.

And I am very aware that my family and I are not the only ones who have been through the emotional wringer. Most people have had major life events at some time or other; bereavements, births, severe illness, redundancy, divorce, etc., etc.

We all have our struggles…

So in future, whenever my workload is starting to feel heavy, I will think to myself “Compared to recent events in life, this is a walk in the park.”

And whenever I am asked to take on extra responsibilities, I will think to myself “I have a young baby to look after and care for. What work responsibilities can possibly be greater than that?”

And if I need to take the odd risk in order to develop and progress the microbiology department that I work in, I will think to myself “This is not a life or death situation. What is the worst that can happen…?”

Sometimes our mind plays tricks with us with regards to the challenges we face at work, to the degree that they start to become stressful and all encompassing.

When work life gets tough, then reflect on your other life, the more important one, and put your job into perspective. 


“The Introverted Microbiologist”

I am quite far to the left on the introversion/extroversion scale.

And maybe that is why I am a microbiologist…

I have always been a bit of a loner, a dreamer, a wanderer, and most days I need and crave a lot of time by myself. I guess I am a little anti-social, and much prefer talking to people one on one, as opposed to being part of a group conversation.

On occasion my introversion borders on misanthropism, but don’t take it personally. Such feelings never last long.

I hate the idea of networking with strangers at conferences. That is anathema to me! On the contrary I thrive on the amount of time I can get to myself during conference leave. Maybe that is why I am attracted to large “anonymous” conferences such as ECCMID, where I can disappear unknown into the crowd…

You can get away with being an introvert as a microbiologist, regardless of whether you are a scientist, a technician or a clinical microbiologist. Our jobs mean we do not necessarily need to be face to face with other people for large parts of the day. Obviously you need to be able to communicate, but there must be a lot of other professions where a degree of extroversion would be more useful than in microbiology…

I don’t think I am the only microbiologist that is introverted. I look at my colleagues and I can see similar characteristics in many of them, just maybe not to the same extent as myself. It reassures me that I am not the only one!

Sometimes I can override my tendency towards introversion. My desire to have my opinion heard can often conquer my natural reluctance to speak out, particularly when I am in familiar company. I am also not afraid to take risks and try new things out in the microbiology laboratory. My low boredom threshold and innate need for change often overrule the introvert’s need for a “quiet life”. An introvert is not the same thing as a luddite.

However my displays of extroversion are often forced, and short lived in nature. I always end up veering back towards introversion.

So I embrace my introvert personality. I am supremely confident in my ability to be a competent and influential microbiologist in spite of my introvert tendencies.

I might be quiet, but underestimate me at your peril…