Christopher Gardner

What is your current position, and what do you do?
Currently I am employed as a PostDoc in the CropScience division of Bayer AG, located at their research laboratories in Frankfurt, Germany. I am part of an international collaboration with the Grains Research & Development Corporation (GRDC) of Australia, working to develop the next generation of herbicides to combat resistant weed species, and secure the food supply of our increasing global population. For me, this involves the design and synthesis of molecules, interpretation of structure-activity relationships and further optimization of lead structures.

Describe your study/employment pathway so far
I completed both my BSc and PhD at UNSW, and was fortunate enough to find this position with Bayer shortly after submission of my thesis. During my PhD studies, I also performed casual work as a demonstrator in undergraduate laboratories and doing outreach activities to promote chemistry in the community.

What has been your biggest challenge, career-wise?
So far, the biggest challenge I have faced in my career was deciding what path to pursue, once I had obtained my PhD. I had to decide whether I wanted to do research, teaching, scientific outreach, scientific policy, publishing, or something entirely different. Ultimately, I chose to start down the path on a career in industry, which has brought its own challenges, not least of all moving overseas and having to learn a new language!

What do you believe are the greatest attributes of a successful scientist?
The ability to think not only logically and critically, but also imaginatively: to think not only in terms of what is possible, but what do we want to make possible. I also believe that scientists need to be passionate and compassionate, since we have such an important role to play in helping society progress by not only making discoveries, but also in the dialogue between experts and non-experts about the interaction of science and society.

How have you used the skills/knowledge that you acquired, from studying chemistry, in your current role?
As my work involves mostly synthetic chemistry, I employ all of my practical skills on a daily basis. I am also able to implement the many leadership and communication skills that I developed from studying chemistry, be it in educating or supervising more junior colleagues, participating in interdisciplinary discussions with other chemists, computational chemists, biologists and biochemists, or through interactions with the public.

What are your interests outside of work?
Outside of work I like to read books, play guitar, go for walks through the woods and mountains, cook, play cricket, travel to new places and spend time with the people close to me. Oh, and learn German!

What helps you achieve a work-life balance?
As passionate as I am about my work, I am quite fond of the old adage that you work to live and don’t live to work. When I am finished for the day, I try to leave my work in the office, and focus my attention on other things. The German culture helps a lot, since they generally keep work and home quite separate, and won’t call or E-mail you outside office hours. I also make sure that I take all the annual leave I am entitled to, and do as much travelling as possible.

What advice would you give to students starting their science careers?
I would advise any young, budding scientist to follow their passion. Science is an incredible career, in that you get to do almost anything you can imagine. It is important to keep in mind that science degrees can be combined with degrees from other university faculties (Arts, Law, etc.), since many careers can benefit from scientific training. I would also advise them to study abroad, since science is a global pursuit that depends on collaboration. You gain a much greater perspective on things by being immersed in other cultures and viewpoints.

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