Women of Bio21 - Danielle Christesen

Tell us about...

Your research?

Nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) are important insecticide targets, and mutations in nAChR subunits can confer resistance, often with minimal fitness cost for the insect. I am characterising nAChR subunit mutants with extreme developmental defects to guide future insecticide strategies, and to better understand neuronal control of development.   

What did you want to be growing up?

I had no idea what I wanted to be, but I was always fascinated by how animals “work”. My favourite picture books were on the biology of obscure animals like squids, insects and crustaceans. I suppose I wanted to be a geneticist/zoologist all along, but didn’t know it at the time!  

A key challenge you’ve faced?

Early in my PhD, I spent five months working in a large fly lab in Houston, Texas. I felt totally out of depth in such a fast-paced research environment. It was also my first time living alone, and overseas, in what turned out to be one of the rougher Houston neighbourhoods. Despite wanting to fly home on many occasions, I stuck it out and ended up gaining so much from the experience. I will always be grateful to my supervisors, Phil and Trent, for sending me over and supporting me.    

What achievement are you most proud of?

Going outside my comfort zone and giving research a go. The easy option was to pursue a career in dance, but I felt it wouldn’t be a fulfilling long-term option. I was so hesitant to try Masters, and now I’m here almost finishing my PhD.    

What do you hope for women in STEM?

Many of my younger dance students have been aspiring scientists. I hope they grow up to have more female lecturers and academics than I did, and to be surrounded by more females in leadership and management positions.

Who inspires you most?

Tinna Yang. She’s the undisputed Queen of our lab and is full of knowledge and experience. As our RA, Tinna guided me through my first year of research, and I always wondered how someone could know so much. Whilst I’ll never quite reach her level, I hope that after several years I’m slowly catching up.

What is your passion/hobby/interest outside of work?

My biggest passion is dance. I grew up studying jazz, tap, hip hop, contemporary, and ballet. I’ve been a teacher for ten years and now work as an examiner too. Other than dance, my free time is filled with gym, video games, Lego, jigsaw puzzles, nail art, and podcasts.