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Jo-Anne Bright

Jo-Anne is co-developer of the globally used crime-busting software STRmix™ and Senior Science Leader at the Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR).

Jo-Anne BrightWhat do you do on an average work day? He aha tō mahi ia rā, ia rā?

An average work day depends on where I am in the world! 

If I’m in New Zealand, I spend my time researching models for probabilistic genotyping, testing the performance of the models, developmentally validating software, writing papers, and talking to other scientists in New Zealand and abroad about anything related to DNA evidence interpretation. 

I also spend a lot of time overseas teaching forensic biologists how to interpret DNA profiles, and specifically how to use STRmix™ and the models behind the software.  This is mostly in the US but could also be in Europe or Asia.  We spend the days teaching small groups of scientists and then the nights catching up with our ongoing work at home.

What did you study at school? And after high school? I ako koe i te aha i te kura? I aha koe whai muri i te kura tuarua?

At school I studied History, English, Statistics, Calculus and Physics. In my last year of college I decided I was going to be a forensic scientist. I was advised by the school guidance counsellor that I should be studying Chemistry, Biology, or something called Biochemistry at university. 

Because I’d never heard of Biochemistry before, I naïvely assumed it would be a bit of both Chemistry and Biology and therefore perhaps a little easier...  At the time (1994) Victoria University of Wellington offered a summer school bridging course in Chemistry, which I completed before starting my first year there majoring in Biochemistry.

Jo on holiday

Was your study directly related to what you do now? He ōrite tāu mahi i taua wā ki tāu mahi o ināianei?

Mostly yes.  I majored in Biochemistry later picking up Genetics as a double major because I loved it so much.  I now wish I had studied more than just one year of statistics.

What would you like to share with young women who are thinking about their career choices right now? He aha āu kupu hei āwhina i ngā rangatahi wahine e whakaaro ana ki tā rātou mahi mō te wā kei mua i te aroaro?

Take every opportunity that is offered to you.  Anything - however small - could lead to something much bigger.

What are some of your career highlights so far? He aha ngā painga o te umanga e whāia ana e koe?

Winning the Prime Minister’s Science Prize has definitely been the highlight of my career and is unlikely to be topped. 

In 2017 I was awarded the Early Career Researcher Award at the inaugural Science New Zealand National Awards. 

Earning my PhD in 2015 after studying and working full time has also been a great achievement.

Jo in Hobbiton

Why do you believe engaging in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) is important to New Zealand?  He aha a STEM (pūtaiao, hangarau, pūkaha, pāngarau) e whai take ana ki Aotearoa?

I believe that everyone should be engaging in STEM to some degree. This is how we can make informed decisions about some of the biggest challenges facing us, whether they are small issues facing our communities or immense global issues like climate change. 

Why is it important to have more women working in STEM? He aha te take me whai wāhi ngā wāhine ki STEM?

I believe that it’s important to not just have more women in STEM but to have a more diverse group of people from many areas, be it gender, culture or background. 

This diversity is important to ensure that we’re hearing a range of opinions and perspectives. Different perspectives can lead to new insights, techniques and knowledge.

Jo in front of a Māori carving

Jo-Anne Bright is a Senior Science Leader at the Institute of Environmental Science and Research Limited (ESR), in Auckland.  Jo is one of the developers of STRmix™, a software used internationally for the interpretation of forensic DNA profiles. 

This profile is part of our series of girls and women in STEM.

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