Scientist SpotlightThis is my first interview for my Scientific Reasoning feature. The questions will be the same for each interviewee and I hope that they will give us some insight into the lives of a few of today’s scientists.



Dr Julia Archbold is a good friend of mine. We have known each other for many years and have worked together in the past in our twenties (ish). I admire Julia greatly, both as a scientist and as a person. She is warm and talented, with a quick wit and a very kind soul. She is about to embark on an exciting new adventure and I caught her just in time for this interview.



me: So I know you’re a scientist, but when did you decide to become a scientist? What were you thinking? (Not WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?!?! but what made you decide that science was going to be your future?)

Julia: I actually started a science degree ‘thinking’ I would become a medical doctor. At that time in Queensland, you had to have a degree before being able to sit an entrance exam to study medicine. But it was in my first year of my science degree that I realised there was one problem with my plan — I would faint at the sight of blood!!


me: What was the best thing about studying science?

201501_Julia-9Julia: What I really loved was the theory behind the medicine. How does the heart pump blood around the body? How does the immune system recognise a virus? Why do some people suffer from asthma? How do we discover new drugs? And it was that quizativity that led me to follow a career in medical research. I spent over 13 years in the lab as a researcher, but just recently have switched career paths into science editing and communication. I am now embarking on a new challenge as a freelance scientific editor (shameless )


me: And what was the most irritating part?

Julia: I think for me, the most frustrating part of research was the constant feeling of ‘failure’.
You can spend months working hard, thinking you are on the right track, and then you realise that your experiment just isn’t going to work the way you thought it would. Or you 201501_Julia-10drop your protein that took months and months to make on the floor! I think it was those sorts of things that irritated me as it could feel like an incredible waste of time.

In the past, that probably would have been okay, and you could just start another experiment, happy in the knowledge that you had ruled something out. But the way science is funded these days you need to have a ‘positive’ result — a major breakthrough that makes a difference to the world around you. If you don’t, you simply don’t get funded. I think its really sad that it has gone that way, as we are losing some of the best scientists simply because they didn’t have their ‘Eureka!’ moment in the first few years of their career and then they lose their job.


me: What type of scientist are you (and what does that mean)?

201501_Julia-13Julia: My field of research was structural biology. Basically that means, I try to understand what proteins and peptides look like right down at the atomic level. These proteins are too small to be seen under a light microscope, so we have to use a different technique that uses even brighter light, such as X-rays. The technique also requires knowledge in physics, maths, computing, and biochemistry to be able to create models of these proteins. But once we do ‘see’ what these proteins look like, it can tell us a lot about its function in the body and what might be going wrong in disease. We can then use this information to design new therapies.


me: What’s your claim to fame?

Julia: I think my proudest achievement was winning the Victorian Premier’s Award for Medical Research. This was for my PhD research into understanding organ transplant rejection. I studied the interaction between two proteins involved in the rejection process by solving their structures. Unlike the current dogma where we try to genetically match the donor and recipient as closely as we can, my research pointed to the possibility that if we used extreme genetic mismatching we might have better outcomes. The recipient of the transplanted organ may not actually be able to start an immune response against the donor tissue resulting in rejection, because it actually can’t detect it in the body. Its like it is wearing an invisibility cloak. However, this research is still in its early stages.

I received the award at Government House in Melbourne and my parents were invited. It was so nice to have my parents there. They have played such an important role in my education and I would not have been able to get to that point without their emotional and financial support. So the award really recognised the sacrifices they have made, and their support of me becoming a scientist even though its not the most financially rewarding career path!


 me: What part of your job gives you the most satisfaction and why?

201501_Julia-11Julia: The most satisfaction I got was when I finally saw the structure of the protein that I was working on. It was an amazing feeling to be seeing something for the first time. Only then can we start to understand how that protein really works in the body and maybe even be able to fix things that go wrong in disease.

The thing I loved about being a scientist was the sense that I could potentially help those suffering from disease or illness in the future and improve their quality of life.


me: Do you find that people react a certain way when you tell them you’re a scientist? Do they make any assumptions? Are they correct?

Julia: Yes! I think the best way I can explain this is through a little experiment I did when I was a lot younger and very single. I would go to bars with a few friends of mine and guys would try to strike up a conversation and eventually ask “so what do you do, Julia?”

201501_Julia-5I had two answers to that question: “I’m a scientist” or “I’m a hairdresser”. If I used the first answer, there would be silence and the majority of guys would make some lame excuse to get away from me. But being a hairdresser was awesome, and they would continue buying me drinks! This also worked for another scientist friend of mine who chose the slightly more glamorous occupation of ‘air hostess’.

 In all seriousness though, I think people do get the impression that because you are a scientist, you are boring or you only want to talk about science and your own research. But we are actually quite normal people really, and we aren’t completely socially awkward (well maybe a little bit).


me: Are you a good public speaker?

Julia: Public speaking makes me want to vomit. Yes, even after all these years. For me, this was one of the toughest parts of being a researcher. Saying that, it did get better over the years. And I think my nerves meant that I practiced and prepared enough to give an acceptable talk. Oh and just recently, I discovered beta blockers to help with the anxiety and obvious shaking hands. They definitely help!


me: What’s your superpower?

Julia: I’m anxiety girl! Able to jump to the worst conclusion in a single bound! No but seriously, I think my superpower is my ability to be super organized. And this is a really important quality as a scientist.


201501_Julia-7me: Do you wear a lab coat and safety glasses? Why?

Julia: I always wear a lab coat in the lab, mostly because I was working with litres and litres of bacteria or yeast so I didn’t want to get that stuff on my pretty clothes. I would wear safety glasses most of the time (don’t tell my safety officer that!). It depended on what I was doing I guess. If I was pouring acid, yes I’d wear glasses.



me: So when you aren’t in the lab, or the office, what do you love doing?

Julia: I know its clichéd but I just really enjoy spending time with the people I love – whether it’s at the pub, going to a gig, or watching movies.


me: Tell me about one thing that makes you smile or laugh out loud!

Julia: Oh there are so many things that make me laugh! Like right now, I’m watching Family Guy and that’s making me laugh! 🙂



Thank you Julia for being my first interviewee for this series. You were great fun and so easy to photograph.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this interview, I think you’ll agree that Julia is a very accomplished young woman and a great example of the modern scientist. Just like many of us, Julia started with a plan but things don’t always go according to plan. She is on a new path now, building her business and now she’s heading off to see the world!

I wish Julia the best of luck and all the happiness in the world.


If you need any editing done or help with scientific writing, no matter where you are in the world, please contact Julia at – or you can find Julia on Twitter @JuliaArchbold

x desleyjane




Posted by:desleyjane

photographer, blogger, planner, scientist, dog lover, frequent flyer, daughter, sister, BFF, human

53 replies on “Scientist Spotlight – Dr Julia Archbold

  1. I’ve just landed here… and really enjoyed reading the interview, thank you. I find it motivating even if I’m not a scientist… the idea of the extreme genetic mismatching sounds absolutely mad, and absolutely fantastic. Go, go, go!! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Fabulous interview and photos! Julia is an inspiring woman! I enjoyed reading her answers to your interesting questions !
    Please post more interviews of amazing people like Julia 🙂


  3. Reblogged this on Norah Colvin and commented:
    Curious scientists
    In my current out-of-the-classroom position I write science curriculum materials for use in early childhood classrooms. It is an interesting and challenging role, but also lots of fun as I work with a number of other writers who are also teachers, with an added qualification in science. As many of them have studied science at tertiary level, worked in various other fields, and taught science at high school level, I am surrounded by people with a lot of knowledge and experience different from mine.
    One thing that is wonderful about working with a group of scientists is the range of topics that are raised for discussion around the table at lunch time. Scientists are naturally curious and they don’t take anything at face value. They delve into it, interrogate, investigate and explore until they have answers to questions that may have arisen. I learn a lot! Like the difference between degradable and bio-degradable; how close the asteroid came to Earth; and mitochondria, genetics and children with three parents!
    On the home front too, I am surrounded by scientists; computer scientists and environmental scientists, each with a strong sense of social responsibility and ethics. I am fortunate to be swept along in learning by their interests and enthusiasm.
    In previous posts I have shared some thoughts about the importance of curiosity and of my opinion that children are born scientists. I am always delighted when I come across something that supports my opinion. (Yes, there are others!)
    I have recently discovered a lovely blog Musings of a Frequent Flying Scientist written by a local scientist Desley Jane. This week she shared an interview with another local scientist Julia Archbold. I enjoyed it so much I decided to share it with you.
    These are just a few of things I like about it:
    They are both young female scientists. (For too long science was seen as a male-only province.)
    The importance placed upon curiosity, asking questions and ‘quizativity’ (what a great word!)
    The excitement of learning.
    That their engagement with science makes a positive contribution ‘the world’.
    Please visit Desley’s blog to read the entire interview and explore what else she has to offer.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. I’m looking forward to reading more on your blog.
        Marigold from Versus Blurb has also reblogged it. I see on your page that you and she have had quite a discussion. You are the first bloggers from Brisbane I have “met” online. It’s very exciting! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I really enjoyed this interview, Desley. It is wonderful to see the positive impact of your, and Julia’s, work upon the lives of others. You are both an inspiration and I’m sure many other young women will be encouraged to follow your footsteps into science. I have reblogged this post on my blog: I am looking forward to reading more interviews on your fabulous blog. Thank you for sharing. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Reblogged this on Versus Blurb and commented:
    Found this via Norah Colvin’s blog at
    I read the interview and had to reblog it myself! As a scientist myself (okay, I’m using that term loosely – I’m a geologist, and not a very good one, maybe C+ level) who wants to use my science background to become a teacher, it’s SO nice to be excited about science again! I hope to inspire young ones into a field of research just like Dr Julia Archbold (what? I can dream!).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Marigold. LOL I am actually watching an episode of Big Bang Theory where Sheldon is picking on geologists and engineers – that’s pretty harsh! I’m excited that you want to teach, I think teachers who are passionate about science should be the only ones teaching it. I will take a look at your blog, but are you in Australia?? Thank you so much for re-blogging and I’m so glad that this resonated with you!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Yup, I’m Brisbane, born and bred. Don’t have much about science on my blog though. I have my fingers in lots of pies.
        I love that Bigbang episode “they’re the Kardashians of science!”

        Liked by 2 people

              1. I was. Quit my job and am starting grad dip of ed in two weeks at ACU. Nice small campus 🙂
                So… Robotics huh? That’s lots more awesome than rocks. Unless I were maybe a vulcanologist… No, robots would still win 😉

                Liked by 1 person

  6. At the point of dropping the protein on the floor i felt sick omg i can imagine how awful that was, wow that would take some while to get over. Admiration for such a career and you took some lovely photos…well done xxxx 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  7. So interesting, DesleyJane.
    I’m by no means a scientist… I’m more of a social sciences/ humanities type of gal, but I do enjoy science, even if I don’t understand it all completely. I’m definitely looking forward to reading more of these. 🙂


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