60 seconds with… Koa Webster


Few people can say their ideal job involves poop. But with that in mind, we chat to Dr Koa Webster Postdoctoral Research Fellow from the Department of Biological Sciences, about the importance of citizen science projects such as Scoop a Poop. 

Work stuff
I’ve been at Macquarie for…
14 years in various roles. I started as a casual laboratory demonstrator and I’ve sort of just stuck around.

In a nutshell, my job is to…
Coordinate a major citizen science project, called Scoop a Poop. Citizen science involves recruiting the general public to assist with scientific research projects – we ask people to collect possum poop, so we can screen it for antibiotic resistance genes. My job includes administration and promotion of the project, outreach events at schools and local councils, and laboratory work.

The question I hear most often in my work is…
“What exactly IS Scoop a Poop?” Second most often question is, “But WHY do you want to collect possum poop?”

The top three things on my to-do list today are…
1) Complete a strategy document outlining how we will meet our sample collection target over the next six-12 months.
2) Catalogue and assess the quality of the most recent samples to have arrived at the lab. Yes, this means looking at possum poop! Make sure the sample database is up to date.
3) Conduct a risk assessment for a local council event.

If I could do any other job at Macquarie (with instant qualifications/knowledge) it would be…
I’m struggling to answer this because I don’t really want to do anything other than my current job!

A Macquarie staff member who impressed me last week…
Daniel Russell. He works in our lab as a research assistant and he is a happy, helpful and friendly colleague. He always impresses me with his efficiency and excellent time management in the lab.

I get my campus coffee fix from…
I don’t drink coffee! (But I get through LOTS of cups of tea in a day).

If you were given $50 million to create or build something at Macquarie, what would you do with it?
Create a Citizen Science Hub to forge connections between existing citizen science projects on campus, support researchers to create new citizen science projects, and promote Macquarie projects to the public. With that kind of money, you could pay a small team of people to really upscale Macquarie’s citizen science presence and improve both public science literacy and the datasets of many research projects.

Personal life
My ethnic heritage is…
Despite my Maori name, I’m as Anglo-Celtic as they come! I was born in the UK to NZ parents, with Scottish and Northern English heritage.

My favourite subject at school was…
Science. I haven’t really changed much!

Outside work, you’ll often find me…
Discussing Doctor Who, I’m a big-time fan and a card-carrying member of the Doctor Who Club of Australia! (I just LOVE Jodie Whittaker as the new Doctor).

I’m really looking forward to…
Settling into my new home. We recently moved and there are still many boxes to be unpacked.

The most amazing place I’ve ever visited is…
The Burgess Shale fossil deposit in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. I trained for months to be fit enough for the trek – it’s up quite high, and it requires an all-day trek to get up there and back down again. It was well worth the physical effort to see the site of discovery of weird and wonderful fossils that fundamentally changed our understanding of evolution and extinction.

The last great movie I saw was…
Ocean’s 8. It was such a delight to see a group of women doing interesting things on screen! I wish there were more movies like this.
To align with Antibiotic Awareness Week (12-19 November) and One Health Day (3 November) BIOL364 Symbiosis in Health and Disease will showcase issues of antibiotic resistance to the MQ community at the One Health Science Fair (register here). As part of this event you can also collect a Scoop a Poop kit and contribute to MQ research by collecting a possum poop sample.

Alternatively, contact Koa to pick up a Scoop a Poop kit at koa.webster@mq.edu.au.





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