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Dr Jennifer Deegan

My research

My focus has always been plant development research, and I've been lucky enough to approach the subject in many different ways through my career. Starting with gametophyte fern development as an undergraduate at the University of Glasgow, I moved into flower development during my PhD at the John Innes Centre. I then moved to root development during my first post-doc contract, which was at the University of Cambridge. As time went on I also became more and more interested in computing and so finally moved into bioinformatics.

For 7 years I was working with ontologies as a plant specialist, and then programming in java at the EMBL-EBI. After about a 5 year career break to raise a family, I have now come full circle and am studying gametophyte fern development again. I am using my computing experience to build a focus stacking microscope from scratch, which is a really interesting way to bring together my skills in programming, electronics, photography and plant science. I especially enjoy being able to collaborate with my husband on this. He is a computer scientist so together we can find technical solutions that neither of us to could figure out if we were relying on only our own skills.

My journey

From early on I was very clear that I wanted to spend some years as a scientist and then give up paid work to devote myself full time to raising a family at home. I was aware that I was going to need to pack in lots of science in my early career years, while the time was available, so I worked very hard.

At 35 I was lucky enough to start a family and I did give up work. I found looking after my son very fulfilling, but it was a bit lonely being away from my old friends, and I found it very odd no longer having access to the scientific literature. However, I did not want to give up the chance to being always available for my son.

I was very lucky again at that point to be taken back as a volunteer visitor in a research group where I had previously worked. From then on I carried out self-funded research at home, with a little bit of guidance on direction given by my supervisor. I was developing macrophotography equipment to photograph gametophyte ferns, so this was very suitable work for my situation.

I was doubly lucky later on, working with a small group, to be given an equipment grant under the Biomaker 2017 Challenge scheme. Our team won one of the Biomaker Challenge trophies, which was a big excitement after several years at home. Since then, I have now been awarded an OpenPlant equipment grant, working with the same team, to develop teaching materials and further develop my microscopy equipment.

I'm really thrilled with this little volunteer role, and especially delighted to be able to receive equipment grants. I had assumed that I would be excluded from formal, published science, when I gave up paid work to have a family. It's really a delight to be able to still publish my work, apply for small equipment grants, and be in touch with the scientific community. The best thing is that, because I am a volunteer, I can do this and still be available for my young family whenever I am needed.