Hi my name is Jo Madden and I was born and bred in the heart of the “Naki” in the town of New Plymouth. I was fortunate enough to have the best of both worlds during my childhood in that we lived in suburbia but I spent every weekend at my grandparents farm which is where I think I picked up my fascination with science. From the age of two I would join my father as he slaughtered sheep for the freezer so by the time I was five I had a good grasp on my anatomy and physiology.
My secondary schooling was completed at New Plymouth Girls’ High and even though I was an above average student I didn’t consider myself intelligent enough to cope with years at Med School and nursing had no appeal but then I discovered laboratory work and found out that you could get paid to train should you be lucky enough to gain a position at a training hospital around the country. So with dollar signs in my head I set about securing one of these positions and was fortunate enough to be accepted at Auckland Hospital. A few weeks later I loaded up my Austin Mini with all my world possessions and moved to the big smoke, aged 17. If I remember correctly, my initial wage as a trainee scientist was around $11,000 per annum which made us seem like royalty compared to the poor students who had to fund their own pathways – at least it kept us in alcohol at the local student pubs.
After two years of my three year NZCS course in Medical Science I had the opportunity to transfer my training down to Tauranga Hospital in the sunny Bay of Plenty where in the meantime my whole family had relocated so once again the Mini was packed with my worldly belongings (one suitcase of clothes, a giant stuffed bear, pillow, duvet and a goldfish) and off to Tauranga I went. My decision to specialise in Microbiology was an easy one as I was never au fait with the complexities of the analysers in the other disciplines and Micro allowed me to muck around with live, wiggly, smelly things which took me right back to my childhood. After fully qualifying I spent some time travelling through South America before returning to take up the 2IC position at Tauranga Hospital where I remained until the inevitable merger of the hospital and community labs in 1996.
During the years leading up to the merger I spent my hard earned wages, which thankfully had increased somewhat, on travel, playing squash and touch rugby, completing daredevil acts like bungy jumping, sky diving, white water rafting, driving in a demolition derby and saving for my first home which I purchased at the ripe old age of 21. Through my sporting endeavours I met my husband, Shane, who persuaded me to marry him instead of heading off on yet another OE – I still have not been to Europe or Africa as intended. I hope he reads this as we have our 20th wedding anniversary next year!!
With plans for a family in mind I happily took redundancy when the laboratory merger came to fruition only to end up back in the employ of Pathlab two weeks later. My mission was to “help out” in Specimen Services while everyone got used to all the “new hospital test requests” that they were at first unfamiliar with. I remained there for nearly a year until I left on maternity leave with our first child, a daughter, now 16. A son followed 22 months later and after seven years out of the paid work force I returned to work for Pathlab again but this time in my chosen career as a Microbiology scientist.
I am probably considered weird for the fact that I actually love going to work. I enjoy it as much today as I did when I first stepped into this bug infested environment. There is great satisfaction in picking up a plate, determining if any pathogens are present, interpreting the antibiogram and telling doctors what to do with it. I have found the ongoing education that has become necessary to maintain my practising certificate a challenge at times but also very worthwhile in keeping my brain active and not resting on any laurels (not sure if we even have laurels in New Zealand anyway).
Outside of work I have become heavily involved with the world of competitive gymnastics due to the fact that my daughter has been competing since she was seven and by way of Darwin’ s theory of evolution I have ended up as the President of ARGOS Gymsport club here in Tauranga. Other interests include being an avid sports spectator and amateur runner, crosswords and quizzes (something about my competitive nature I guess), reading and attempting to survive my children’s teenage years with my sense of humour intact.
I look forward to bringing you posts from a practical scientists perspective with a view to enlightening the non-laboratory based readers on what our job entails on a daily basis.
Should you wish to contact me directly, I can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org