Jo Chapman


When Jo Chapman was at high school, she thought she wanted to be a vet. She took on a range of work placements at local clinics, sweeping floors, doing laundry, but also sometimes sitting in on consultations and even watching some surgeries.

“I didn’t get accepted into the Veterinary Studies programme at Massey, but in reality, there are so many different types of scientific work available. I'm actually glad, now, that I didn't,” Jo reflects. “My science career has been so very diverse and rewarding.”

Jo studied for a BSc at Massey University in Palmerston North, majoring in Ecology and Genetics. After completing her Masters, she took on a role as a research technician at Plant and Food Research in Auckland before heading overseas.

First stop was the University of Oxford in England to take on another research technician role. Three years later, Jo’s scientific career “really took off” when she was invited to complete a PhD in the breeding biology and evolution of a small forest bird called the great tit.

After a brief return to New Zealand, Jo moved to Sweden to study mallard ducks and their immune genes – the same genes she would later study in fruit flies in Kansas, USA.

From small to even smaller; in 2020, Jo moved home to New Zealand “and now I work at ESR, researching something even smaller – viruses.”

“My current job is quite different from my previous roles,” Jo says. “I’m studying viruses that are found in the environment and in our food. My main focus at the moment is on surveillance and genome sequencing of the SARS-CoV-2 virus (the virus that causes COVID-19) in wastewater samples from around New Zealand.”

“I don't have a boring 9–5 routine where every day is the same,” she reflects. “I think a career in science will almost always guarantee that your job will be quite varied – science advances all the time: there are always new developments to keep up with and new approaches to try.

“I've travelled all over the world, studied lots of different things and met some amazing people along the way. What’s not to love about that?”