Camilla Pandolfi

Camilla Pandolfi

Course completed in Australia: 6 months of postdoctoral research
Institution: University of Tasmania
Current position: Marie Curie Research Fellow, University of Florence

Dr Camilla Pandolfi landed a job at the prestigious European Space Agency as a result of her study experience in Australia.

Dr Pandolfi, an expert in plant physiology and plant behaviour, spent five months at the University of Tasmania (UTAS), learning the MIFE technique (a non-invasive microelectrode technique for measurements of net ion fluxes from plant cells and tissues) as part of her PhD at the University of Florence.

She was so pleased with the UTAS program that on completion of her doctorate, she successfully applied for an Endeavour Research Fellowship, an Australian government award, and returned to the university for a further six months. This time she focused her research on the stress caused by salinity (salt) on plants, such as barley and wheat.

“The Endeavour Award is really highly regarded,” she says. “The European Space Agency was looking for a biologist, but they were really impressed by my Endeavour Award,” she says. So despite being a plant physiologist, she got the job.

“Even later they told me how impressive it was to have an Endeavour Award, with a letter from the Australian Minister!” she says smiling.

Camilla says the decision to study in Australia was an easy one. “In this field, Australia is a great place. It wasn’t a real choice. I really wanted to learn the MIFE technique. I really wanted to study there,” although she admits that as an Italian she would have preferred a warmer climate than Tasmania’s!

Camilla considers herself privileged to have collaborated with many international scientists as part of her research at UTAS, including Professor Sergey Shabala, Dr Tracey Cuin, Professor Igor Pottosin and Dr Zhong-Hua Chen.

“From an academic point of view, those six months were very important. I published two or three papers in co-authorship. I wouldn’t have made the connections so early in my career had it not been for my Australian study,” she admits. “It really reinforced what I wanted to do.”

Camilla continues to work with colleagues she met in Tasmania and says that these collaborations have “motivated other scientists to follow my example”.

The move to Australia was the first time the scientist had lived abroad. “I had to learn to work in a different environment,” she says. “But in Tasmania you can do lots of things, so by the end of the first week, I was fully integrated! I used sport to make friends.”

Camilla joined a beach volleyball team and, inspired by the ocean view from her lab window, she learned to sail.

“I windsurf but I had never sailed before,” she says. “I went to the sailing club and they were recruiting for crew to be on boats for a Thursday night regatta, so I became one of the crew and went every Thursday.”

But her real passion lies out of the water. “I’m addicted now to beach volleyball,” she confesses, a devotion she has continued in Italy, albeit indoors.

“Australia is really a remote place,” she says. “It is difficult to visit because the travel time is really long, but it has a really international culture. It is a unique experience. I learned a lot, not only the language, the lab techniques, but how to interact with people.”

She readily admits that on arrival in Australia she was scared that everything, from ants to spiders, might kill her, but now she says laughingly that “the chances of survival are very high”.

She contends that Australia is an amazing country to discover, “from the funny and peculiar animals you always meet, to the amazing plant varieties you see, the landscapes and beaches.”