In conversation with Dr. Jess Hopf

Jess Hoph

Hi Jess - thanks for chatting with us!

What drew you into the world of STEM, and the world of marine biology in particular?

Embarrassingly, it was seeing a dolphin trainer at Sea World when I was a kid. I absolutely loved the ocean, and when my mum told me that the trainers were marine biologists, I decided that’s what I wanted to be. I quickly learned that marine biologists rarely train dolphins, but it didn’t matter; you could study things in the ocean as a job. How cool is that? So 10-year-old Jess set her sights on becoming a marine biologist.

I came into science to study our oceans but stayed because I love problem-solving and discovery. I now work as an ecological modeller researching marine reserves. That is, I convert ecology into maths to help understand the where, why, and how of protecting our oceans. Every day, I get to think deeply about how a small part of our world works and how we could improve it, which I love! STEM is also filled with great, interesting people, and it is a real honour to get to work with them.

As well as a researcher, you are also a scientific graphic designer - tell us about what this involves, and how you see visual design impacting how research work is communicated.

I am so excited about this! As a scientific graphic designer, I help other researchers distil their ideas and findings into graphics and visuals. Through this process, my clients find they gain clarity in their work, in addition to having a new (visual) way of communicating their work to peers, funders, students, and the public.

I think visual design has a huge role to play in moving science and science communication forward. As researchers, we are trained in writing and oral presentations, but not the visual language. Poor visual literacy means that the ubiquitous plots, figures, and concept diagrams in our work are often subpar. Other industries have long known the power of good graphic design in communicating a message. I think we can learn a lot from them. For example, marketers deeply understand how humans interact with and perceive a message and use this to their advantage, for better or worse.

Although we have a legacy of believing otherwise, science is not immune from the fact that attractive things work better. We need to accept this if we really want our science to have an impact. If we are going to nurture a constructive relationship with society or even just work better with our peers, we need to speak in a language that resonates with our audience. Well-design visuals do just that. 

Who are some of your role models?

One would have to be The Thesis Whisperer (Inger Mewburn). I admire her ethos. Her work is driven by the desire to help PhD students get to the finish line while getting the most out of their experience. She really has the students best interests at heart, and I think academia needs more of this.

Not one role model specifically, but I am also hugely influenced by my design clients. They are exceptional researchers doing incredible work. Passion and dedication for their work runs deep in them, and it’s invigorating to be around. My clients re-energise my love of science, and I hope I give a little of that back to them too!

Could you share 3 highly recommended reads or podcasts that you think would be of interest to colleagues in the STEM Women network?

At the moment, I am in love with the book ‘Made to Stick’ by Chip Heath and Dan Heath (yep, they are brothers). It’s a fascinating read about how ideas move through the world, and why some ideas survive and others die. It gives excellent practical advice that we could all use in our work and has completely changed how I think about communication and sharing knowledge.

For podcasts, my go to’s are 1) ‘Conversations’ (by the ABC), which is excellent for bringing you back to reality and hearing about the extraordinary and inspiring lives led by some Australians; and 2) ‘The Infinite Monkey Cage’, which makes me laugh out loud while learning about science!

What would be your advice to women and girls considering a career in STEM?

Do not be afraid of change. You don’t have to stick to the first career path that you chose. Pursuing a career in STEM is about exploration, problem-solving, and discovery. Apply this to your approach to life and you could end up somewhere far more interesting and rewarding than you thought possible. I will add, though, that non-linear career paths (or even linear ones) can be bumpy, so stay strong when things get tough or uncertain. Good luck!


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