What it's like to be involved in the Queensland science… and seafood scene
Issued: 8 Mar

A blog by Amanda Dawson about her research into microplastics in fish, and her advice for girls wanting a career in STEM

As a post-doctoral researcher at the Australian Institute of Marine Science Amanda has been investigating the impact of microplastics in seafood, which has major implications for Queensland’s thriving seafood industry. Find out what she’s been doing since winning the 2019 Queensland Women in STEM Jury Award.

Image of Amanda working with barramundi in the SeaSim at Australian Institute of Marine Science.Open larger image

Amanda working with barramundi in the SeaSim at the Australian Institute of Marine Science.

What have you been working on?

Last year I carried out an experiment on young barramundi at the National Seasimulator at the Australian Institute of Marine Science. I am looking to find out what are the physical or chemical characteristics of microplastics which make them more likely to stick in and around a fish gut, rather than being excreted. I am also looking to find out what size a microplastic must be to be transferred from the gut into the fish fillet.

I also just published a paper which discusses the evidence so far for presence of microplastics in Australian seafood, and how this fits in with our seafood consumption patterns in Australia. One of the interesting findings from this review is that in Australia there is a huge knowledge gap, in terms of how much plastic there actually is in our seafood, especially store-bought fish fillets. This is one area I am going to focus on next.

Open larger image

Searching for microplastics in seafood.

I used the Queensland Women in STEM prize money to do a course in Ecotoxicological statistical analysis, and I bought a microscope and fish samples to help me with my research.

I am working with a young international Masters student, also looking at microplastics in prawns. I really enjoy working with and mentoring her. I can’t wait to see her final results because the work she had produced so far is very exciting.

Why do you like working in STEM?

I like discovering new things and learning. Being a researcher in science allows me to pursue this passion every day. Although I feel like the more I learn, the less I actually know!

Why are good role models important for women in STEM?

Young women can really benefit from strong women who believe in them and their potential. I was lucky in high school as my Chemistry and Biology teachers both really encouraged me, showed interest in my education and, in the case of my Chemistry teacher, told me to stop comparing myself to other people and not be so hard on myself.

I also had a really great role model in my PhD supervisor, who demonstrated that having a family and a research career was possible. And that in the grand scheme of things family should come before work. For women, it sometimes feels like we need to choose one or the other.

Image of Amanda who is studying all types of seafood and the impacts of plastic.Open larger image

Amanda is studying all types of seafood and the impacts of plastic.

What advice do you have for young women considering a STEM career?

Always stay true to your interests. If you love science – pursue it! Even if you are the only one in your circle of friends that is interested in science, or you are not the smartest person in your class, or even if you come from a completely different background like me (my dad is a farmer and my mum works in retail!) – I say just do it! Don’t be afraid to be different, people will continue to love you no matter how many digits you can calculate Pi too!

And also remember, you don’t have to be a genius to work in STEM, just a passion.

In 2021, Queensland Women’s Week will be held from 3 to 14 March. It is an expansion of International Women's Day, providing for a week-long, statewide celebration of the achievements of Queensland women and girls. If you know extraordinary women in any science field, give them the recognition they deserve! The 2021 Queensland Women in STEM Prize is now accepting applications until 9 April.