Christine Goosem

Science enables us to understand the world around us. We need to invest in good science in order to make positive and sustainable changes for the future.

In 2018 we asked Christine some questions about her career pathway, her experiences as part of the Awards and her advice for aspiring students. In 2020 we reached out to Christine again, to hear how her work has changed in the times of COVID-19. Here is what she had to share:

What did you investigate in your project for the Awards and how did you come up with the idea?

I investigated the effect of different nutrients on the growth of blue-green algae, as well as the impacts of algal blooms on the depletion of dissolved oxygen in bodies of water.


Our teacher demonstrated to our class a number of different data loggers our school had provided for our year 12 Extended Experimental Investigations. One of the data loggers measured dissolved oxygen. I thought it would be interesting to see what potential impacts agricultural run-off could have on aquatic ecosystems. After researching a bit about algal blooms, I thought that it would be worthwhile investigating the effects of nutrients on blue-green algae, as blue-green algal blooms come with the additional risks to humans, livestock and wildlife due to their toxicity.


Do you have any advice for students thinking of starting a research project?

My advice would be to find a research question that both interests you and has real-world applications. If you’re looking for some inspiration, the CSIRO website outlines a number of important research areas that CSIRO is currently committed to.


Tell us a bit about the studies you undertook, what kind of career path you’ve decided to follow and why?

I’ve always had a keen interest in nature. This is hardly surprising, as I grew up in beautiful Cairns; I had the rainforest and reef right at my doorstep. I was very lucky growing up, as both of my parents were ecologists. This meant I was exposed to scientific research from an early age. Apparently as a baby I would happily be strung up in rainforest trees while my parents were collecting field data. I have good memories of assisting my Mum with some of her field work during school holidays.


I decided to study Zoology at University because I was interested in animal physiology and ecology. Research looking at the unique structural and behavioural adaptations of animals to their environments really fascinates me. I probably also watched too much David Attenborough growing up! During University, I took a number of entomology courses which I thoroughly enjoyed.


After graduating, I got a casual summer job working for CSIRO on insect pests in cotton which reinforced my interest in insect ecology. After that role, I worked for the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for 6 months on diseases in cotton. This then led to a full-time role with Biosecurity Queensland working in the Panama Disease Tropical Race 4 Program diagnostics team, looking at ways to protect banana crops. After two years in this role I saw an opportunity advertised within CSIRO, which would bring me back from plant pathology to entomology. Luckily I got my ‘dream job’ and have been happily working in the Australian Biological Control Laboratory team ever since.


What are you researching at the moment?

For the past two years I have been working at CSIRO in Brisbane as a research technician in the USDA ARS Australian Biological Control Laboratory team. Our team is funded by the US Department of Agriculture to carry out research to find and test potential biological control agents of Australian native plants that have become invasive weeds in the US.  This work sends me up to Northern Australia a fair bit to conduct field surveys in Cape York and Darwin where we collect a number of our insect herbivores. Back in the Brisbane lab we determine the mode and level of damage each insect does to the plant. We then raise colonies of potential biocontrol agents in order to carry out experiments to understand the biology and ecology of the insects and to do some preliminary host testing. Promising agents are then sent to our US collaborators where they carry out vigorous host testing in quarantine.


What have you been up to since we last spoke in 2018?

The past 6 months have been quite a bit different due to COVID-19. Our team has been working a bit of a staggered roster, with people on the same project working alternating day/s and our supervisors have organised “A, B & C teams” in case someone gets sick. I haven’t been able to do any field work since March this year due to travel restrictions and the fact that a lot of our field sites are located near at-risk remote indigenous communities. It would be completely devastating to accidently bring the virus into these areas. 

Although travel is always exciting, doing less field work hasn’t been the worst thing in the world. It has given us more time to focus on insect life history experiments and preliminary host testing of potential biocontrol agents here in the Brisbane labs and rooftop glasshouses. So, although it has been a very “strange” time, we have still been able to continue to achieve the majority of our goals and milestones (minus the native range exploration!).

Luckily, working in the USDA Australian Biological Control Lab, my work is primarily on native Australian plants and insects that are a problem weeds in the US. However, many people in our broader team work on insects from overseas (for biocontrol of our weeds here in Australia). If our quarantine facility needed to be shutdown and disinfected, they might unfortunately lose insect colonies and experiments with no immediate way of sourcing an insect colony again due to the severity of the pandemic in places of South America and South Africa where the majority of our tropical weeds originate from. Fingers crossed it doesn’t come to that!

How has being a part of the Awards helped lead you to where you are now?

The Awards helped give me confidence in pursuing a career in biological science. It also provided me with a greater understanding of CSIRO and what potential career options were available within the organisation.


In light of COVID-19, what does Science and Engineering mean to you?

I think COVID-19 has really shone a light on the importance of scientific research for our future. I am in awe of those scientists working on a vaccine (especially our CSIRO scientists) and of what they have achieved in such a relatively short period of time. It really goes to show, sometimes our heroes wear lab coats. 

The devastating impacts of COVID-19 have been felt across the world. I hope that it may inspire the next generation to pursue a career in science, where they can really make a difference. I also hope that scientific research is suitably valued in the future in order to help overcome the impending problems society will face as a result of climate change.


What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

In my spare time I enjoy playing soccer and futsal, going on weekend adventures with the dog and travelling.


Get started with the BHP Billiton Foundation Science and Engineering Awards Alumni Network!

Register for an Alumni network today

Award partners