Welcome to Pitch Your PhD – Shownotes

Season 1, Episode 12

Sex science in the community (of mice) with Dr Jarrod McKenna

In this episode of Pitch Your PhD, Dr Catherine Ball chats with Dr Jarrod McKenna on his recently submitted PhD research on early pregnancy and assisted reproduction on in spiny mouse – the only rodent with a menstrual cycle!

The reason we did that (the research) was to hopefully see that the embryos implant at the same time and in a similar way, and the uterus sort of prepares itself in a similar way to what we think happens in humans, because we don’t actually know exactly what happens in humans at the exact time the embryo implants, cause we’ve never seen it… 

Jarrod has always known that everything he loves has science in it – but he did not know that he will go down the reproductive biology pathway.. let alone do a PhD on it.

This is a “kind of, sort of, vaguely close” copy of the words from this episode.

IT IS NOT 100% accurate.  We are very sorry if we have spelt something completely incorrectly.  If it means a lot to you to have it corrected, email us at mel@ramaley.media

Pitch Your PhD – Dr Jarrod McKenna

[00:00:00] Catherine: Hello, and welcome to pitch your PhD. This is the podcast that shares the stories of PhD students from the past and the present in the hope to inspire the future. I’m Dr. Catherine Ball. Now our guest today has had quite a journey to arrive at where he is right now. Today I’m speaking to Jarrod Mckenna.

[00:00:20] Originally from New Zealand, Jared spent most of his school years in Singapore before deciding to move to Melbourne for university. He claimed that he was just an average student who didn’t really seem to Excel in anything, but he knew what he liked. And so he followed his interest into the science subjects.

[00:00:36] So because he had just a general sense of what interested him, Jared wasn’t sure where he wanted to go with his study. And this led him on a real journey of discovery. Firstly, he tried veterinary science, but then moved into physiotherapy and then into neuroscience before eventually settling down into reproductive biology, which honestly came completely out of left field for [00:01:00] him.

[00:01:00] It was all down to a single class he enrolled in and the amazing, super engaging lecturer, the course was called sex science in the community. And the lecturer really sparked his interest and made him want to study a little bit more about the topic. And that one single course led him solidly down the reproductive biology path.

[00:01:21] After his first degree, he was tempted to do a PhD, but he wanted to test the waters first to make sure he actually liked doing research. So Jared enrolled in a master’s degree and as he worked on his master’s, he was getting deeper and deeper into the field. So he converted his master’s degree into a PhD.

[00:01:39] And we are so glad he did because he’s just finished his PhD a few months ago, studying early pregnancy in the assisted reproduction of the spiny mouse. Now I could go out to lunch on that just alone, but we’re going to deep dive into his research and the impact it will have on society in just a few moments.

[00:01:55] But first I’d like to give a whole hearty warm. Welcome to Jarrod. Welcome Jarrod, [00:02:00] and congratulations for finishing your PhD.

[00:02:03] Jarrod: Thank you very much.

[00:02:04] Catherine: We used to be like

[00:02:06] Jarrod: Yes. Thank you. Thank you. It’s quite the fate.

[00:02:08] Catherine: It’s done. You got to smile. No one can see it because it’s a podcast. You got a smile right across your face.

[00:02:13] Jarrod: The dark days are over

[00:02:16] Catherine: The dark done. So yeah. How long ago did you actually submit and do you do viva oral exams here in Australia? I can’t

[00:02:22] Jarrod: Um, so we do three. Well, submitted earlier in the year about February and then I got everything finally confirmed. Everything’s signed on the dotted line and about may June or around there. So we don’t do a defense per se. We just do three, checks throughout our PhD for like milestones. And then we just submit

[00:02:41] Catherine: Oh, wow. Well, his little mini viva for you then today shall we? We did a little mini viva for you today because I want to know this now, you know, I’m an ecologist by first degree. And so the idea that we even have a mouse that menstruates just blows my tiny, tiny ape mind. now, so you’ve just [00:03:00] finished.

[00:03:00] You submitted everything is done and dusted. So effectively some people have pandemic babies, some people have pandemic puppies. You’ve got a pandemic PhD.

[00:03:08] Jarrod: and I have a pandemic puppy as well.

[00:03:11] Catherine: Which one’s been more difficult in the last few months.

[00:03:13] Jarrod: Oh, the puppy for sure.

Childhood and Undergraduate

[00:03:17] Catherine: Okay. So let’s get back to where you were when you were at school. So originally from New Zealand, but your accent is a real menagerie here, so can you talk through. Uh, where in New Zealand are you from?

[00:03:26] Jarrod: I’m from Auckland, rest of my family is from Dunedin and in Bakago. So I’m a north Islander, they’re Southern. Yeah. So they’re basically at the Southern tip and I’m almost the Northern tip.

[00:03:38] Catherine: Yeah. I love Auckland, one of my favorite cities. So how on earth did somebody from Auckland Oakland ended up going to Singapore from the ages of 9 to 19?

[00:03:46] Jarrod: Yeah. So that was, that was thankfully dad’s job sort of thing. So big opportunity for him. So we moved over there. Yeah. When I was nine and I spent more time in Singapore than I did in New Zealand. So that’s probably why my accent is a little bit here [00:04:00] and there and all over the place. So I went to like a, a British schools.

[00:04:03] So. that

[00:04:05] Catherine: British, British, come on. You ought to say it. Like I

[00:04:07] Jarrod: British

[00:04:08] Catherine: school.

[00:04:09] Jarrod: or otherwise I’ll be, oh, it was a British school. So, so that definitely had a play with that as well. I had to learn Chinese at schools. So that again, lots of things at play.

[00:04:19] Catherine: but how the heck did you get here Jarrod? Let’s try and reverse engineer a little bit Did you know you wanted to get into biological science when you were a kid? What did, what was it that used to really get your noodle baking? What really got thinking about things at night?

[00:04:31] Jarrod: Well, I think like a lot of people, a lot of kids growing up, I always wanted to be a vet or wanted something with animals. And everybody’s sort of had that dream for a little while. Yep. There you go. so that sort of set me down science-y path. Cause I knew that I would probably have to do something biology based or physics based at school to sort of get into that.

[00:04:53] and as soon as I started doing those science subjects, I was like, oh, okay. Yeah, this is pretty cool stuff. Sort of ignoring that I wanted to do at [00:05:00] that time. I was just interested in the science in general. So, Yeah, I, like you said, I had changed what I did in my bachelor of science. I think four times to try and figure out where I actually really wanted to go.

[00:05:11] That was vet and then physio and then neuroscience and then into reproductive biology. And I think everybody can sort of think back to either school or the university days when they’ve got one lecturer. That’s just, just so enthusiastic or a little bit out there and that makes everything that they’re doing so much more engaging.

[00:05:31] And you just remember all of it. And I couldn’t thank this lecturer enough for really putting me down this path.

[00:05:38] Catherine: Well, I can’t thank this lecture and a for actually having the spine to have a topic at university entitled sex science in the community. Cause frankly, isn’t that university life

[00:05:47] Jarrod: exactly.

[00:05:48] Catherine: Is this an anthropological study of university students? Hang on a second, been there done that.

[00:05:54] Jarrod: Yeah, it was pretty good advertising.

[00:05:56] Catherine: That would get a lot of people’s interests now. I love it. Okay. So.[00:06:00] So you always like to ask questions, you were never quite sure you always had that vet thing around in all of us have that thing where we work with animals at some point in life. I reckon, I reckon most of us do. and as a girl, you know, for me, it was like the idea of having a horse or what, you know, and then agriculture stuff you know, saving tigers was my big thing.

[00:06:16] Like how can we save the tigers, all that kind of stuff yet, but I didn’t end up in that quite so much. .

From Master’s to PhD

[00:06:20] Catherine: Great. Okay. So you were a good average, you were a good general average across your subject matter, which means I think you’re a bit of a polymath when I read that I was like, this is a person that could probably, if I, if I was like, playing you on a computer game, I could turn you and you could pretty much do anything computer game.

[00:06:34] Like you’ll have some skill or some interest in order to take it all out. And I can relate to you on this because I’m also a generalist when you’re a polymath, when you’re able to turn your brain and your thoughts and your interests to pretty much anything, it’s really difficult actually to select what it is that you want.

[00:06:47] You have a paradox of choice. You could have gone down so many different pathways, and you found your way there eventually by just trying something that you liked and going for something that sounded good. Tell me about what it was from when you first started your [00:07:00] master’s process to moving that into a PhD.

[00:07:03] What were the things that inspired you to go from just purely master’s program alone into a PhD?

[00:07:07] Jarrod: So there are a couple of people that I could, that come to mind straight away. One would be, my brother who was the first person in our family to go to university and he went and got his PhD. So that kind of set the bar pretty high. And I being the youngest had to sort of, you know, either match him or try and do one better.

[00:07:24] but also my friend slash colleague slash turns PhD supervisor, she definitely had a big, big role in sort of moving me from, a master’s into a PhD because, um, she’s actually the one that discovered the menstrual cycle in the spiny mouse, Dr. Nadia Bellofiore so incredible person, incredible researcher.

[00:07:45] And when your friends with the person who is the only expert in something in the world, it’s very hard not to get sort of caught up in that sort of. Not fantasy, but that incredible world, that she’s [00:08:00] just so knowledgeable when, and, you know, you could talk to them for hours and hours and hours about it.

[00:08:04] so she played a big role as well. And, after talking to, you know, to these two people after, I think it was about a year, it was a pretty obvious choice in my mind to sort of upgrade cause you know, what’s another year or two to become a doctor in the end. So why not?

[00:08:18] Catherine: Oh, there’s nothing like being with that person that actually discovered it. I’ve never really managed to work with anybody who was like the first at anything like that when I was going through my studies, I’m really grateful that I’ve got that chance now and working with people like Genevieve Bell, who’s the first person to sort of start talking about new cybernetics in the fifth industrial revolution in such a new way where everything else for me, I almost felt like when I started my PhD, I was going to build soil on Mars.

[00:08:42] I was going to get colonies on the moon. I to save the rain forest. I was going to do everything and we will start with these like delusions of grandeur. When we first start our PhDs, which get knocked out of.

[00:08:51] Jarrod: Yup. You get shut down pretty quick.

[00:08:52] Catherine: Get shut down pretty damn fast, but working with somebody who’s actually discovered a world’s first thing. Tell me about [00:09:00] that and how that influenced your

[00:09:02] Jarrod: I mean, because the more that you talk to them as well, they’re so passionate. She’s so passionate about it. And. And, and something like finding a small animal model for something like a menstrual cycle studies and human reproduction, like it’s, it’s got such profound effects that it can have in the future.

[00:09:20] not immediate effects because science works very slowly because science is very hard and takes a long time. But, yeah, working with her was, a lot of fun. and so rewarding. And so I just learnt so much from her.

Thesis Title

[00:09:31] Catherine: Okay. So let’s talk about your thesis topic for a moment, because this is really intriguing to me. So what was the title? What’s the subject matter and why should anyone care about this particular of research?

[00:09:41] Jarrod: Sure. So my thesis title is early pregnancy and assisted reproduction in the spiny mouse. and like you said, it already, it’s the world’s only known rodent with a menstrual cycle and that is incredibly, incredibly rare in nature. So there’s five and a half thousand mammalian species, I [00:10:00] think, and less than 2% have a menstrual cycle.

[00:10:03] And that’s essentially all the great apes, you know, humans and gorillas and chimpanzees, a couple of bats, and the elephant Shrew, and now this mouse. So we’ve got a really good contender for, a good laboratory model to study things like menstruation and human pregnancy and, and everything around those two process.

[00:10:24] Catherine: This is like another gift from mother nature. Isn’t it? Something else for us humans to be able to further understand our own biology. So why is it that this species of mouse actually menstruates? Do we know why, where it’s

[00:10:38] Jarrod: That’s becoming the age old question with this species. Now we’ve really got no idea. but it doesn’t really make sense when you try to put things together because. Why would a small little mouse that lives in the desert? Have a menstrual cycle, because if you think about it in a predatory prey sort of model, you know, it’s running around and it’s leaving a bloody trail everywhere it goes.

[00:10:58] So it’s going to be preyed [00:11:00] on a lot, and it doesn’t really make sense to be doing that as a small prey animal. there are a couple of theories out there. We haven’t really picked one that’s going to stick yet but essentially the prevailing one is that in a weird word to use is that it can afford to have a menstrual cycle.

[00:11:16] it’s got a couple of other interesting traits, in addition to a menstrual cycle that might allow it to sort of afford to have one in that it can shed its skin. Like,

[00:11:26] Catherine: Hang on a second, a mouse. that menstruates, that can shed its skin..

[00:11:30] Jarrod: Yeah, your mind’s blown again.

[00:11:31] Catherine: Is there something about the Australian, ecology and the endemic species that are only found here that are like something that they’re just the rule breakers,

[00:11:39] Jarrod: Well, these ones are actually found in Egypt.. So this is the Egyptian spiny mouse.

[00:11:43] Catherine: wow.

[00:11:44] Jarrod: Yes, they are absolutely incredible. They’ve got, so if you think of like a little lizard or a little gecko can drop its tail and know, the, the predator would attack the tail and the gecko gets away. the spiny mouse can do a very similar thing.

[00:11:57] So. it can desheet its tail. [00:12:00] So the, essentially the skin can come off and it can lose skin on its back and its tummy and it will regrow perfectly.

[00:12:06] Catherine: Well, there’s something interesting that maybe even to help with burns research, right.

[00:12:10] Jarrod: and that’s, that’s another sort of a line of research that a lot of people are going down and, um, in the U S, I think looking at that sort of wound healing capacity and how we can harness that. yeah, it couldn’t get more amazing this little species.

[00:12:23] Catherine: Tell your mother nature does provide us with the answers. We just don’t know how to look for them. Sometimes do we?

[00:12:28] Jarrod: Exactly.

The Research

[00:12:29] Catherine:  So out of your thesis, what kind of things are the main takeaways for the average Joe on the street? And also where’s the research continuing on.

[00:12:39] Jarrod: So the research is still continuing in, one main area from my PhD. And that’s in the line of how, and when the embryos implant in the spiny mouse, that was big study well, the main study of my PhD, really. and the reason we did that was to hopefully see that the embryos implant at the same time and in a similar way,[00:13:00]  and the uterus sort of prepares itself in a similar way to what we think happens in humans, because we don’t actually know exactly what happens in humans at the exact time, the embryo implants, cause we’ve never seen it.

[00:13:11] nobody’s going to really line up and donate their tissue. And thinking that they pregnant and they going to give it up for research. So it’s a very, very, very, very hard thing to find in humans. We’ve seen it in gorillas and chimpanzees, and we really crossed our fingers and hoped that maybe we’ll see the same types of processes in spiny mice.

[00:13:28] And the answer is yes and no again. So we’ve got good and bad news, good news and bad news. but that’s science, you know, you’re never going to find the perfect anything. So we did see the embryos implanting. They implanted a little bit, different to how we think that they would implant in humans.

[00:13:46] it’s more mouse like, which makes sense that being a mouse, but also the uterus prepares itself. In exactly the same way that in humans and gorillas and chimpanzees do. So you see the same patterns of growth [00:14:00] and recycling, and you see how the arteries in the uterus sort of grow and expand and how that structure changes.

[00:14:07] so that’s really good news. and that’s still sort of being looked at in different lights and hopefully we can find out more in the future about that.

[00:14:14] Catherine: Well, we know there’s been a lot of research done. and I, recently wrote about this in the book that I’ve just written but it was all about you know, the lambs in the bags. Remember that whole thing where they would cut the very young fetuses out of the mothers and put them in the bags and then grow them in like the fake womb.

[00:14:28] But one of the things that always said, you know, this can’t possibly go any further than this because you need to have it. First of all, growing inside a uterus to be extracted from a uterus to be put in a bag, the the missing part of this chain is that implantation in utero. And then being able to grow it from that without a human body, a corporeal form of, you know, either a lamb or a cow or a human that’s, then incubating that to then grow animals, agriculturally without needing them to be grown the traditional way, which is really gruesome.

[00:14:57] But when you think about all the technologies that can come from [00:15:00] this, that can help special care babies that can help people that have had very premature babies. I see the real positives around some of these technologies. The things that freaks me out about it is the idea of having armies with no mothers and like animals able to be produced on mass or humans that can be produced on mass without any kind of mother involved.

[00:15:18] There are so many ethical quandaries that and rabbit holes that we could fall down figure what’s right and what’s wrong about this.

[00:15:26] Jarrod: Reproduction is a very, very tricky one ethically as well, because, you know, we, as a scientist, we want to grow embryos as long as we can but at what point does it become, a baby, does it become sentient and become a living thing now? so yeah, there’s always pros and cons to things like that.

[00:15:44] Science is amazing and it’s hard to sort of tackle some of those issues. Yeah. Like there’s always the good and the bad

[00:15:51] Catherine: I, mean, we’re not living in the matrix anytime soon. but Do you think we’re a quantum leap off or do you think we’re not that far off being able to do that completely without [00:16:00] animal mother,

[00:16:01] Jarrod: I don’t think we’re that far

[00:16:02] Catherine: What would you call it? what’s the terminology?

[00:16:04] Jarrod: Ex vivo ex placental something. I’m not sure.

[00:16:09] Catherine: Oh my God. It’s so interesting.

[00:16:12] Jarrod: vivo pregnancy.

[00:16:13] Catherine: So this mouse menstruates is the menstrual cycle. What, how long does that menstrual cycles go for?

[00:16:19] Jarrod: So the cycle is nine days and. nine days. So, yes. and that’s a three day, menstrual period. So the rest you have that pre and post ovulatory phase, and then you’ve got the menstrual period as well. So it’s

[00:16:35] fascinating.

[00:16:35] Catherine: Mouse can breed a lot faster than humans, right? nine day menstrual cycle. I don’t think I’d want to wish that on my worst enemy. It sounds pretty scary.

[00:16:43] Okay. So here you are now you’ve got your PhD and this is the subject matter that you got. And this is such an interesting topic.

[00:16:49] I can’t wait till we can all travel and everyone’s out of locked down and everything. Cause I would love to sit with you in a pub with a beer waiting, watching the beer, get warm while you and Ideep dive into that. Cause it’s

[00:16:58] Jarrod: I would love to do that as well..

Current plan

[00:16:59] Catherine: It’s [00:17:00] amazing, amazing thing. Okay. So what are you going to do now? You finished your PhD.

[00:17:05] Jarrod: The worst question

[00:17:07] Catherine: in no man off. it’s like, you need to just relax from it, but you also just don’t want to let go of the bone because you’ve just done it.

[00:17:12] Jarrod: Yeah, exactly. It’s like one of the hardest questions you could ask a PhD student or a recent, um, researcher. Right. You know, when are you going to finish and what are you going to do? And, and I’m still of trying to decide on that. whether I stay down this route, or maybe I sort of go into a different area or of, human health or, I’m still trying to decide.

[00:17:34] I mean, I’m still helping out, some of the research at Monash and I’m advising on a couple of things and seeing how we can move those projects forward, because I don’t want to hinder anything. If I could be a help, then by all means, let me help. it’s just whether I commit full time down one track or down the other.

[00:17:49] And then now I’m coming back to that generalists thing again, I’m interested in the menstrual cycle when spiny mice, but I’m also sort of interested in something over here. Maybe I could take my expertise and move over here. So I’m at [00:18:00] that crossroads again, where I still have yet to decide which route to take

[00:18:03] Catherine: I think in terms of your options, they’re only really after COVID sort of dies off a little bit, you know, that the hydro of human population and fertilization and fertility is still an area that a lot of money gets spent on. A lot of interest is in. So going to have that paradox of choice again.

[00:18:18] Jarrod: Yes,

[00:18:18] Catherine: are many things

[00:18:20] Jarrod: absolutely. The fertility industry is massive as well. It’s it’s growing enormously enormously, so that’s another sort of work that you can go down and how to make and improve IVF in humans and that sort of thing. So yes, many routes

[00:18:34] Catherine: you see the very first it’d be show my age here. The very first IVF baby, I think was the year after me. I was born in 79. when was Louise Brown? There you go. So I’m as old, credibly young, obviously, but you know, I’m as old as IVF is in human beings

[00:18:50] and it’s, amazing to see maybe she was slightly older than me.

[00:18:53] I was August 79, I think.

[00:18:55] Jarrod: we’ll say that.

[00:18:56] Catherine: I think she was slightly, yes, I’m younger than IVF technology. [00:19:00] but look how far it’s come. And this is one of the things I think we forget as scientists to stop and take a, a look back at everything that we’ve actually discovered because it’s like dog years. Why isn’t it? It’s exponential technologies. Some of these new things completely different

[00:19:14] Jarrod: Yeah, it’s incredible to think that only so many years ago, know, since then, I think we’ve had over 5 million babies born through IVF in the world, that’s incredible from, a few different techniques. Alone. We’ve created 5 million babies and changed, you know, the lives of countless more. So it’s, amazing to think how powerful science can be.

PhD highlight

[00:19:36] Catherine: So talking about the power of science, then let’s throw you back into your PhD journey.

[00:19:40] Jarrod: All right.

[00:19:41] Catherine: Tell me about some of the highlights of your research when you really start getting into it. What kind of sticks with you as a bit of a sort of pinnacles of success for you through your thesis about.

[00:19:50] Jarrod: Well, I think the first publication that I got, I think is probably the most proud accomplishment that I can think of from my PhD. And that’s where I described [00:20:00] protocols on how how to freeze the sperm from the spiny mouse. So that’s sort of the assisted reproduction side of my PhD, coming into play this.

[00:20:07] So that was my first publication in that, reflected three years of hard work and many tears and lots of experiments gone wrong, a few going right. And finally finding what worked. So that’s definitely what sticks out in mind. Sort of my most rewarding, I think. but yeah to get to that point, I said, it took three years and that’s a lot of, that’s a lot of experiments to do

[00:20:28] in three years to finally get something to work and that’s a lot of setbacks, but you know, that’s what a PhD is. a lot of problems you’ve got to overcome them otherwise. It doesn’t work. Like you’ve got to come out. You’ve, you’ve got to face trouble. And I was very lucky in a way in white to have a lot of trouble that I eventually overcame and got a publication out of it.

[00:20:47] So very happy with that.

[00:20:49] Catherine: Yeah,

[00:20:49] there’s something magic. There’s something really magic about your first publication. And it’s almost, I didn’t do a PhD by publication. I did a PhD by chapters and I looked back and I really wished [00:21:00] that I’d had that experience of going through that publication production during my PhD. and now what I’m trying to do is a bit of op-ed stuff.

[00:21:06] I tried to write op-ed type things, because I don’t have time to spend three years in a lab to work out a methodology or something like that. Right. But I’ve got big conceptual things that I want to talk about and ways want to communicate ideas and things like that.

PhD Challenge

[00:21:19] Catherine: So tell me about some of the troubles and some of the more difficult times, because I think they’re actually sometimes more interesting than the successes.

[00:21:26] Jarrod: and there’s plenty of them. I could talk for hours and hours. and it’s a very common problem, to have when you are working with. with a very novel animal model. So especially when it’s a novel field of research and a novel animal model. So they’re new to the lab and we don’t know a lot about them in general, and we’re trying to find out something very specific about their reproduction, and

[00:21:53] essentially because of that, we had to work really, really hard to define even just some fundamental aspects of their biology. [00:22:00] Like I said, it took three and a half years to freeze their sperm with frozen mouse sperm for 60 years. And the protocols that we had for mice didn’t work in the spiny mouse.

[00:22:09] Ironic, of course. so having to sort of look at a lot of already published protocols and similar species and how to adapt them, to work in the spiny mouse was a lot of work. And yeah, like I said, a lot of is, and also a lot of the sort of reagents that you can buy from companies to sort of do like stain, tissue sort of different colors and to show specific parts of the uterus, for example, made for very specific species.

[00:22:37] So there’s a lot of. Let’s say mouse stains. and of course it had to be true that mouse stains didn’t really work in the spiny mouse. So we are, again, limited on what we could actually prove because we didn’t have the stains to back us up. So we, we had the hypothesis, but we couldn’t prove it.

[00:22:55] which is really, really annoying,

[00:22:58] Catherine: so here’s a question. Has the spiny [00:23:00] mouse genome been mapped?

[00:23:01] Jarrod: Not the genome.

[00:23:02] Catherine: Because I’m just questioning in my mind. How much of a mouse is this mouse?

[00:23:06] Jarrod: Yeah, they did do a study and I can’t remember it wasn’t the genome, they did sequence something, but essentially they are more phylogenetically close to, gerbils than by us and mice.

[00:23:17] Catherine: a lot of people go hang on a second gerbils aren’t mice? No. Gerbil’s aren’t mice.

[00:23:24] I feel like I’ve learned something.

[00:23:25] Jarrod: Boom! again.

[00:23:26] Catherine: So, what’s the difference between mouse and a gerbil?

[00:23:29] Jarrod: so they’re both from rodents, but there are different types of rodents. So they’ve got a different genus, I think it is. even before that

[00:23:35] Catherine: So you mentioned that the ones with the skin that’s based in Egypt, right. Well gerbils are from the desert in Egypt. Right. So gerbils are, I always thought gerbils were basically dessert mice.

[00:23:44] Jarrod: Well, that could make sense. That’s where the spiny mouse ca me from. And they’ve sort of broken off, evolutionary along the tree and started having menstrual cycles this way. And then the gerbils went that way and continued to have us based recycles.

[00:23:55] How fascinating,

[00:23:56] Catherine: How fascinating,

[00:23:58] It’s amazing. Isn’t it?

[00:23:59] So, apart from not being [00:24:00] able to actually publish a hypothesis, for lack of evidence, what done there probably is actually create a PhD pathway for another person behind you. Right? This when we come up against the brick walls, we sort of go, okay, brick wall.

[00:24:10] I’m just gonna leave you there for the person that’s coming behind me. Cause I’ve got to continue on here and you can wait for that person and the technology that’s available for that person.

[00:24:16] Jarrod: Yeah. That would be, that’s a nice way of putting it. I

[00:24:19] Catherine: I feel about my Maya pause is in life and full stops that I’ve come up against. And that’s not a full stop. It’s just a parenthesis, just bracket closing that’s for someone else.

[00:24:27] Jarrod: And there’s a thing about science as well, that we often don’t publish when things didn’t work. Journals will only publish good results, things that are super interesting. But how are we going to sort of understand like worldwide, what didn’t work if it isn’t published anywhere? So that’s a real hindrance to research because no one will publish it no one wants to report bad things.

[00:24:50] so we’re lucky enough that, you know, I’ve been able to pass on all of my failure is really this didn’t work. Don’t bother, try this. but maybe something’s in this [00:25:00] protocol. Maybe you could tweak that one little bit. You know, we can pass that down to, PhD students that up sort of following on from my work now.

[00:25:05] So at least they’ve got something to go off.

[00:25:07] Catherine: we’ve talked a little bit about the amazing highs of publications. We’ve talked a little bit about how, you know, it’s hard when you put years and years of work into something, and then you just can’t prove it because of that final piece. I agree with you totally frustrated at the lack of ability to share the problems rather than the successes inside the scientific community.

[00:25:24] And I think that’s something that we need to actually deal with. We need like a publication that’s purely there for fails. You see entrepreneurs, you know, look at it from a different perspective. Entrepreneurs love this thing called F up nights. They do these thing called F up nights where they obviously use the full swear word, but what they do is they actually get everyone together to tell everyone how they’ve really messed up, how they’ve really failed, how they’ve really dropped the ball and how things have not gone well at all.

[00:25:46] And it’s almost like without wanting to be like a pessimist, we actually need to start having these things almost as a section inside like nature and science, like we need to have nights for science. Like we tried this and it didn’t work. He wants to pick it up and come work with us, you know,

[00:25:59] Jarrod: Absolutely. [00:26:00] And not just, not just for like the advancement of science, like that’s just self confidence booster too. You know, if everybody else can come through and say, oh yeah, it took me 10 years to get right. You know, I filed this many times, but it got me into nature, you know, like, it gives people confidence and, I think it would be good in many ways.

[00:26:16] Catherine: There’s something in that again, you know, that whole fail fast fail early, move on type thing in terms of small businesses and

[00:26:21] entrepreneurship, when you’re creating a startup. And I really, I struggled with that being an academic, moving on to entrepreneurship because I felt like it was really flaky.

[00:26:30] I was like, hang on a second. what you’re doing? Just like, oh you know, fail fast, fail, fast move. I’m like, what if you don’t just do something to see if it’s going to fail. And then I was like, oh, actually, that is what we do. Isn’t it? we do. We have to, have to run experiments.

[00:26:43] to get to that place.

[00:26:44] So, tell us a little bit about how you started building up. What was the end of your thesis? How did you fail fast fail early and move

[00:26:51] Jarrod: oh God. it could be a whole another podcast again. So. It another key part about the PhD has been able to sort of [00:27:00] pivot or be adaptable to, you know, when things go wrong. there is a point where you’ve got to realistically look at the timeline and what you’ve done and whether you should pursue it, or whether you should go down another path, which is a more likely option of something working and getting a publication out of it, which is eventually what I did.

[00:27:16] So I wanted to actually do a lot more down the assisted reproduction route So I wanted to also define a super ovulation protocol. So that’s, given the hormone injections to the mice to make them ovulate a lot more than they would naturally, And then we can collect all the eggs and then we can do the IVF and then we can freeze the embryos and, you know, so the cycle continues, but we essentially hit the ground running pretty good with the sperm protocol was sorta working eventually and we’re like, all right, let’s do the super ovulation.

[00:27:46] And then it just, nothing was happening. We couldn’t get anything working and. still in the back of our mind. we wanted to look at, eventually when we got those embryos, if we got those embryos and we transferred them back into a mouse, we wanted to see how they [00:28:00] implanted. So we’re like, okay, well, let’s just skip the transfer and let’s just take pregnant mice.

[00:28:05] and that was thankfully, the right decision to get me across the line and get more publications.

[00:28:09] Catherine: well done. you got to go left to go, right? Sometimes might say

[00:28:13] Jarrod: You’ve got to make a decision eventually.

Advice to self

[00:28:16] Catherine: So looking back, because you’re still riding the higher, just finishing your PhD. And I know what this moment feels like. It’s that weird space in time for those that aren’t doing PhDs that time between Christmas and new year where you sort of go, okay, that was Christmas and we’re waiting for new year, but we’ve got about six days here where we just don’t know what we’re

[00:28:30] or we are, what is the world?

[00:28:32] Jarrod: Yeah.

[00:28:33] Catherine: so if you just go back to where you were first, starting your PhD, what’s the key pieces of advice that you’d give to yourself back then?

[00:28:38] Jarrod: Whoa, my goodness again, hard question, but, I would say don’t, I thought a lot, a lot, a lot about, dropping out and becoming a pastry chef. I felt that will be a lot easier option than sort of pursuing a lot of this, even looked at, I wrote a couple of applications and I think I would definitely get back into insight.

[00:28:57] Don’t be ridiculous. Come on. You’ve got up to see this, you know, you’re [00:29:00] stronger than this. You’re smarter than this. You know, you can do this, you’ve got the perseverance. You’ve just got to make the decision again. You can just, if you just put your foot down, you can do this. So I think it was, it would be to sort of re-ignite my confidence and my determination and say, yeah, you can do this. So, you know, it might take a while, but you will do it. And you can

[00:29:19] Catherine: Yeah,

[00:29:19] it’s an emotive thing. Isn’t it? When you think about how far you’ve come along, that journey and everything that you’ve learned, not only about the science that you’re deep diving into, but also in terms of your own personal tenacity and your own personal capabilities and the things that maybe you didn’t realize that they might want not want to do them or things that you can actually do when you put your mind to it.

[00:29:38] Jarrod: Yeah,

[00:29:39] Catherine: And so just, oh my gosh. I could just geek out with you about this stuff for a really, really long time. And I suppose the next thing for me really is to ask you about when, you know, next stages and next things that you might want to do Hey pastry chefs is not easy.

[00:29:52] That is a is an art and a skill that takes some serious practice.

[00:29:56] but really staying in science is something that you think [00:30:00] you’ll probably do then? Something that you’ll to do with your career?

[00:30:02] Jarrod: Yeah, I think so. I still do at the heart of everything that I love there is science. You know, if you think of even pastry chefs. Yeah. Right. Pastry is a science. You’ve got to follow the recipe to the T. You’ve got to get everything right. You’ve got to do well to get prepped correctly.

[00:30:14] Otherwise the product’s not going to work. So science is at the root of everything that I love. So I might as well stay in it.

[00:30:20] Catherine: I always think cooking is not, but baking is a science,

[00:30:23] Jarrod: Yep.

[00:30:23] Absolutely.

[00:30:24] Catherine: absolutely got to follow the rules because it’s chemistry. Right.

[00:30:27] Jarrod: exactly right.

Advice to future PhD students

[00:30:28] Catherine: Okay. So we know that the advice we give ourselves, because we know ourselves very intimately can be incredibly personal. But if I was to say to you, someone is listening to this right now, they’re just finishing the honors project. They’re thinking about doing a master’s project.

[00:30:41] What is it you would say to them to convince them that they should actually consider doing a PhD?

[00:30:46] Jarrod: I think you would be surprised at how little difference there actually is between a master’s and a PhD in terms of, sort of, I don’t want to say complexity, but, A PhD is, in my eyes. It’s just a [00:31:00] longer master’s. So if you think that what you are going to get yourself into, if you think you’re going to enjoy a master’s, I think that you will also enjoy a PhD.

[00:31:08] if you find a project that you definitely think that you’re interested in. I would definitely suggest doing a PhD instead of a master’s. If you can afford it time and financially, I would absolutely encourage you to do it. it seems an incredibly long and intense fate to do one. but I know I was not, I was just a run of the mill student all as your average, Joe, I was nothing spectacular in anything. And I ended up getting a PhD and I really enjoyed it as much as. as many struggles as I had, it was definitely worth it. So I think you would surprise yourself and how capable you are, to do a PhD.

[00:31:41] Catherine: Oh, Jared. Thank you so much for your time today. I cannot wait to get together with you and have a good geek-out about this. I had no idea that we had. a mouse that lived in Australia that was more closely related to a gerbil that had a nine day menstrual cycle and was the only rodent that menstruated and has other relatives that do weird and [00:32:00] wonderful things with their body parts.

[00:32:01] I just think mother nature is the most interesting.

[00:32:05] Jarrod: Yeah,

[00:32:05] Catherine: intriguing thing that I’ll never be able to live enough lives to be able to fully get a grasp on. So you’ve really given me something to have very weird dreams about this evening sleep

[00:32:15] Jarrod: you’re totally welcome.


[00:32:18] Catherine: And thank you, dear listeners for tuning into another great episode of pitch your PhD. And I bet you didn’t expect to hear half of that this evening or whenever it is that you’ve listened to this podcast. I hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as I have. I’m Dr. Catherine Ball, and I especially want to thank the great team at Romley media.

[00:32:37] Now, if you would like to speak about your PhD journey, you can reach out to us at ramaley.media forward slash pitch your PhD. Please join us next time when we present you with another wonderful guest who will share their unique PhD journey past or present to help inspire the future stay well.