​​​​​​​Land Resources Division Research in Focus: Meet Sera Dau – Laboratory Technician, Germplasm Health, Centre for Pacific Crops and Trees (CePaCT)

Could you briefly describe your academic or professional background and how it has led you to pursue this research opportunity?

I was a curious child growing up and always had a keen interest in understanding the natural world and its complexities. This interest was birthed in my primary school years and especially under the inspiration of my late grandmother. However, my actual journey in science began in high school and this fascination drove me to pursue a Bachelor of Science programme at the University of the South Pacific. During my undergraduate years, I delved into various disciplines, broadening my knowledge base, and honing my critical thinking skills. In 2021, I joined CePaCT as a fresh graduate and I cannot thank God enough for this incredible blessing. I am currently pursuing my postgraduate diploma in Biology, and this has further deepened my knowledge and provided me with a more profound insight into the intricacies of plant genetics and biotechnology.

Can you tell me about your research? What inspired you to pursue it, and what are your main objectives or goals?

I have had the opportunity to be involved in a research project that was on the validation of a method for screening taro for drought tolerance under the Australia Pacific Climate Partnership Support Unit. Identifying drought-tolerant taro varieties sparked my interest as taro is a staple crop in many regions and holds immense importance as a source of nutrition and livelihood for local populations. Through this project, I was able to understand taro varieties' responses and mechanisms under controlled conditions mimicking drought. My experiences at CePaCT have made me become acutely aware of the pressing challenges posed by climate change. I realised that by validating a method for screening local taro for drought tolerance, I could directly contribute to addressing this critical issue and aid in the identification of resilient crop varieties.

What specific challenges or obstacles have you faced during your research, and how have you overcome them?

I have encountered several specific challenges and obstacles that have tested my problem-solving abilities and resilience. However, each hurdle presented an opportunity for growth and learning, and I have managed to overcome them by implementing various strategies and seeking support when needed. I proactively sought guidance from my mentors and colleagues. Their expertise and willingness to share their knowledge helped me gain a deeper understanding of certain procedures. Additionally, I dedicated extra time to practice and refine my skills, gradually becoming more proficient and confident in carrying out the tasks I am given.

One of the most valuable lessons I have learned is the importance of adaptability. Unexpected experimental outcomes and setbacks were inevitable, but I viewed them as opportunities to refine my approach and develop a more comprehensive understanding of my research area. Embracing a growth mindset, I used these challenges as steppingstones rather than roadblocks, making the necessary adjustments and refining my research direction.

How has your SPC work influenced your research? Are there any unique resources or opportunities you have been able to access?

Working at CePaCT has been an invaluable experience, granting me exposure to the proficient use of highly sophisticated equipment and cutting-edge laboratory tools. The hands-on training and access to state-of-the-art resources have exceeded my expectations, mirroring the environment of any top-tier research facility. Being part of an internationally recognised organisation like CePaCT is a privilege that has provided me with unparalleled opportunities to work with equipment and tools that produce some of the best results.

In what ways has your research enhanced your personal and professional development?

Being involved in different research projects at CePaCT has been a transformative experience that has positively influenced both my personal and professional growth. The technical skills, critical thinking abilities, time management, adaptability, and collaborative spirit I have gained are invaluable assets that will continue to propel me forward in my academic and professional pursuits.

Are there any specific skills or knowledge areas that you have gained or improved upon?

I have gained so much knowledge and skills in the areas of Molecular Biology (plant genetics, biotechnology, bioinformatics) and statistical analysis. I am hoping to continue to grow and expand my knowledge and skills in these areas.

Could you shed some light on the organisations or institutions that have played a part in supporting your journey?

CePaCT – SPC has been instrumental in providing me with remarkable opportunities and exposure that have not only driven my professional growth but also enriched my academic journey significantly. Through this experience, I have had the chance to apply theoretical knowledge gained at university to practical settings, honing my skills and gaining hands-on experience in various areas. Furthermore, I am also privileged to have gained capacity building in the areas of molecular diagnostics in MWLR – New Zealand and DAF Queensland, Australia. These enriching experiences have not only broadened my expertise but also fuelled my passion for contributing to groundbreaking research.

Lastly, is there anything else you would like to add or any advice you would give to other students or aspiring researchers or interns who may be interested in similar areas of study?

As my late grandmother would say, “If you can dream it, you can achieve it, but remember dreaming comes with action”. It wasn’t easy coming this far, but I want to encourage my fellow Pacific Island brothers and sisters to pursue their dreams fearlessly and passionately. As young Pacific Islanders, we hold within us a wealth of untapped potential, a deep connection to our land, and a unique perspective on the world. Embrace your curiosity, seek knowledge, and dive into the fields that ignite your passion and don't be deterred by challenges or setbacks; instead, view them as stepping stones towards growth and success. Embrace the richness of our cultural heritage, celebrate diversity, foster collaboration, and use our collective strength to bring positive change to our communities and the world at large. Believe in the power of your dreams, and with resilience and determination, you can make a profound impact as aspiring researchers and scholars. Most importantly, keep your faith in God, for it is through faith that we find strength, hope, and guidance on our path towards realizing our dreams and making a lasting impact on the world. Let us pave the way for a brighter future for ourselves and our beloved Pacific Islands. God bless.    

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