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Jessie Prebble wins 2018 Zonta Science Award

Dr Jessica (Jessie) Prebble was awarded the 15th Biennial Zonta Science Award at a special ceremony in June.

Zonta award winner Dr Jessie Prebble.
Photo credit: Landcare Research

The Award was established by the Zonta Club of Wellington to further the status of New Zealand women in science.

Jessie won the award because of her contribution to her community through her work in Botany. She is also a role model to other young women pursuing a career in science.

Jessie attended QMC from 1998–2002 from Year 8–13 and was Arts Prefect and Dux in her final year.

She says she enjoyed all of her subjects at school and particularly loved English.

“We had an amazing group of English teachers at the time who we managed to get to join us for our tramping club’s summer tramp around Mt Ruapehu one year. We sat around the fire reading Jane Austen,” Jessie remembers.

Jessie says she took a variety of subjects at school which kept her interested in learning.

“I had no idea what I wanted to be when I left school,” Jessie says.

“My yearbook quote was about how I would start a support group for people who didn’t know what they wanted to be when they grew up. I didn’t get into Botany until I was at university. My love of tramping and the outdoors in general is what made me pursue it as a career.”

The Berwick supporter gained a Bachelor of Science majoring in Botany and Ecology from Otago University, a Honours and Masters in Ecology and Biodiversity from Victoria University of Wellington and a PhD in Plant Biology from Massey University in 2016.

“Finishing my PhD took all of my determination. It can be a long and isolating road working on your own research project, but I am proud I accomplished it,” Jessie says.

“The hardest part is often fighting through the self-doubt. Many early career women researchers have battles with “imposter syndrome”, and I am no different, but talking about it can really help.”

Jessie now works as a Plant Systematist at Manaaki-Whenua Landcare Research.

“I research how many plants there are and how they are related to each other. If we find a new species I get to name it,” Jessie explains.

“In my job I use a range of techniques; I analyse genetic and morphological data and spend time looking down microscopes. I go out in the field collecting plants, work with DNA in the lab and analyse samples in the herbarium.”

Jessie’s Zonta Award prize money will allow her to visit three laboratories in the USA and work with leading plant scientists at the University of Florida. She will learn a new technique of DNA
sequencing which improves scientist’s ability to discover and describe species and will share this knowledge with other scientists in New Zealand.