Jo Montgomery, PhD

she/her/hers

Where you can find her:

Education:

  • BSc. in Biology and Biochemistry (with French), University of Keele, UK, 1997
  • PhD Neurobiology, University of Cambridge, UK, 2002

Current job title: Primary Science Specialist (Education Consultant)

What experience first got you interested in science and is that field the same one you went on to pursue?

I have always been interested in the natural world, and curious about how things work. From early childhood I would spend hours outside, digging in the mud, collecting snails, and worms, and woodlice (pill bugs). Although I enjoyed lots of different interests and subjects at school, my heart was always in biology. I’ve worked in several different areas – neuroscience, endocrinology, pharmacology, surgery, animal behaviour, psychology, physiology – but biology has always been involved.

Tell me about some people who helped or inspired you along the way, in your early training and later in your career.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have been supported by many people: my parents always encouraged me to do my best in everything that I did and that anything was possible; David Attenborough’s Natural History documentaries were the soundtrack to my youth and have definitely shaped my passions; I had a lecturer at university who nurtured my research interests, included me in opportunities and supported me to go further and opened my eyes to the possibility of a PhD; and my principal investigator when I was a post doc stretched and guided me to develop new skills at every opportunity with her “See one. Do one. Teach one” philosophy.

Can you tell me about any moments of doubt you had as a student or early in your career and how you dealt with it?

I think self doubt is perfectly normal and definitely not something limited to early career stages! I can recall frequently feeling that everyone else seemed to be more confident in their abilities than I was. It can sometimes be difficult to balance those feelings with taking stock of everything you have achieved and celebrating your successes. Keeping a note of positives can be really helpful, as well as having a trusted support network of colleagues, family and friends. Mentoring and coaching has also really helped me to recognise and play to my strengths.

Can you share two or three surprising twists or turns in your early scientific training and your later career path.

My entire career has been full of surprising twists! I’ve moved from academic scientific research, to working in clinical development in the pharmaceutical industry to education and training! I’ve even worked as a baby swimming teacher! I tend to describe myself as having a career squiggle rather than a career path!

I have taken advantage of opportunities to stretch and diversify as they have presented themselves to me. There is a coherence to the directions I have taken, and each step has led into the next but I haven’t always taken the obvious path. Sometimes it’s important to look left and right as well as straight ahead! I thrive on challenges and can become bored easily, so working on different projects suits me. I’m a lifelong learner so there may even be future directions yet to come!

Can you give some examples of how you have incorporated your non scientific interests into your work.

I’ve always been interested in many different areas and like to incorporate my diverse skills in what I do rather than pigeon-holding myself into one small niche. I use my creativity and artistic side in designing and developing fun and engaging, hands-on science activities for children and creating teaching resources; I utilise my empathy and people skills in helping to support and develop others; My project and event management experience helps me in running my own business.

Is there some advice you could share from your own experience to help someone with a science degree who is just starting off on their own career path.

My advice would be to follow your heart and not be constrained by other people’s perceptions. Science gives us an incredible foundation to question and explore and our skills are valuable in a wide range of roles. Love what you do!

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