Mikhaela started her current role at the John Innes Centre in November 2020, having recently completed her PhD, co-supervised by Professor Richard Mithen (then at the Quadram Institute and now of the Liggins Institute, Auckland) and the John Innes Centre’s own Professor Lars Østergaard.
During her studies she produced two publications, one of which led to the recent award. Here we spoke to Mikhaela about the award, her career so far, and the ways she is advocating for diversity in science.
“Whilst I technically started working at the John Innes Centre at the end of 2020, I have been around since October 2015,” says Mikhaela.
“I am immensely proud of the paper which won the Rosalind Franklin Award. It was a pleasure to share news of this Award with colleagues at the John Innes Centre who influenced the work itself and me as a scientist.
“The Award is for the work I did in conducting the UK’s first gene-edited field trial, and it recognises the impact research like this has on influencing policy and perspectives on gene-editing as well as progressing the field of crop genetics.”
When asked about her current role Mikhaela says, “No day is typical for me; I can be found in the lab conducting experiments, in the glasshouse with our plants or in the office working on manuscripts and data analysis. Alternatively, I can be found in meetings with collaborators, locally and across the globe. In the summer months, I’m mostly off site, usually in the Alps, conducting vital field research.
“At the moment, I’m working on analysing the results of our latest field research from the Swiss and Italian Alps on alpine orchids. The project has taken many twists and turns, even in the two years I have been working on it. I am thrilled that we are able to advertise a DTP studentship looking at how climate change is affecting these orchids, so there’s the opportunity to come and join the team studying these amazing plants.”
“I love how dynamic my job is; every week and month comes with new objectives and challenges. It means I am able to constantly expand my skills. Sometimes it feels like I keep re-branding as to what kind of biologist I am: ask me today and I would say I am a chemical ecologist. However, my work with both GCMS and LCMS leans heavy into fundamental biochemistry, and I am also a molecular geneticist by training. If you saw me in the field, waving around a net trying to catch bees and butterflies, you might label me as an ecologist.”
Outside of her research, Mikhaela is also making strides to foster diversity and equality within the workplace.
“My role as Chair of the Race and Ethnicity Equality and Diversity (REED) working group is to coordinate and oversee the activities and outputs of the group and to focus on overcoming challenges. This means I liaise between members of the community and senior leadership.”
Mikhaela continues, “Being Chair of REED contributes to the John Innes Centre’s commitment to create a positive environment which is fair, welcoming and inclusive. In practice this means we are always striving to improve the culture. I do this by listening, learning and taking on feedback from the wider community and then enabling and encouraging adjustment to the workplace culture where necessary. The role also focuses on fostering a healthy dialogue around race and ethnicity that allows all of us to be heard, understood, and respected.
“I am a British-Ghanaian, born in Accra and hold it very dear to my heart. My experiences navigating academia as a bi-racial woman are what led me to my role as REED Chair and I sincerely hope to be able to do it justice.”
But when she’s not busy with innovative field work or her role as Chair of REED, Mikhaela shares a pastime that many of us can relate to. “Currently, I’m really enjoying long, crisp autumnal walks and curling up with a good book and a pot of tea.”