Where are they now: Robyn Schenk

Where are they now: Robyn Schenk

Illuminate newsletter index page, June 2020
June 2020

Robyn Schenk

Postdoc, Institute of Molecular Pathology in Vienna, Austria
Science podcast producer and stand-up comedian

Robyn Schenk investigates the transcriptional regulation
of B cells and plasma cells, and finds time to produce a
science podcast and do stand-up.

Alum years: 2014–2018

What do you currently do?

I'm interested in the transcriptional regulation of B cells and plasma cells (aka antibody secreting cells), with the aim of finding which critical genes (and, therefore, pathways) are required for these important immune cells to develop and perform their job of producing protective antibodies.

Describe your research achievements at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute.

During my PhD I published two first author papers and had many fruitful collaborations. I characterised a knockout mouse – deleting the BCL-2 family pro-survival protein A1 – and it was entirely surprising that this mouse had no phenotype, given previous studies on its very high expression in several types of activated immune cells. This finding was important for the field, and still lends promise to the targeting of A1 in cancers that overexpress it.

What are you most passionate about?

Although I enjoy my research, I'm most passionate about engaging and educating people in and about science. I think this is something that scientists often miss the mark on, for example by using overly complicated language. On the other hand, science journalism in the general media very easily tips over into the realm of sensationalist ‘click-bait’ stories. I'm trying to communicate science in an engaging but also realistic and not over-the-top way.

What are your professional highlights?

I was very happy to receive a Marie Curie-Skladowska postdoc fellowship last year, and before that also the Leukemia Foundation PhD Scholarship. I was honestly stoked to even be offered the postdoc position that I currently have.

Also, I was recently given a spot in a women's stand-up comedy night as part of an arts festival in Vienna. I'm excited by the idea of combining comedy and science to make science more engaging and accessible. 

What motivated you to start a science podcast?

Science podcasts can often be presented in a very dry way. My own podcast was more inspired by those that are hosted by stand-up comedians, talking about everyday issues in a lighthearted way.

I also think that often scientists are kind of seen as this ‘Wizard of Oz’ type character, behind the green curtain of mystery. I want to lift this curtain and make people see that all kinds of amazing science is being done by all sorts of amazing people.

My podcast, ‘Nice to Know - Conversations with Everyday Scientists’, can be found on Spotify, iTunes and www.buzzsprout.com/1050370.

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