Dr. Amandine Gamble is a Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), where she studies bat-borne viruses. More broadly, she is interested in infectious diseases in animals and uses fieldwork, laboratory experiments, and mathematical models to better understand what drives pathogen circulation across species. Before joining UCLA, she studied veterinary sciences and population ecology in France, where she grew up.
What do you do in the field of science?
Broadly, I study infectious diseases in animals. I am particularly interested in better understanding how ecological dynamics drive epidemiological dynamics. For instance, what is the role that each species plays in spreading an infectious agent, and how can we explain it? As part of my Ph.D. research, I studied infectious diseases in seabirds (primarily albatrosses and gulls), and, for instance, I looked at whether scavengers are more likely to be exposed to, and subsequently spread, bacteria because of their foraging behavior. Now, as a postdoctoral researcher, I study bat-borne viruses with a particular focus on within-host interactions (treating the individual itself as an ecosystem invaded by a virus) and how they vary across species to understand how bat-borne viruses can reach and establish themselves in human populations. The past few years, I have been particularly interested in the impact of human activities, such as species introduction or habitat fragmentation, on these dynamics. Because we can rarely directly observe the transmission of viruses and bacteria (whether it is between individuals or between cells), an important aspect of my work is to develop mathematical tools to extract more knowledge from the available biological data, for instance by integrating together data of different types that both bring different information on infection dynamics.
What made you interested in going into that field?
I discovered research relatively late in my curriculum so it is really a combination of circumstances that got me here. I grew up with sled dogs and wanted to become a sport dog vet. I was appealed by the problem-solving aspect of the job, as well as the fact that it was an outdoor job. While in vet school, I discovered research and got fascinated by ecology, especially how animals are so well adapted to their environments (take a penguin for instance - every aspect of its anatomy and physiology makes it a good diver). I am very grateful to two instructors in particular who introduced me to research: Dr. Caroline Gilbert (animal behavior) and Dr. Loic Desquilbet (statistics). I have also always loved coding and mathematics, and I was missing that in vet school. I thus decided to give it a shot. I started a Master in Eco-physiology and Animal Behavior. I loved the experience and decided to apply for a Ph.D. I chose to do a Ph.D. in disease ecology in particular because it seemed like a good way to use my vet training, while working on questions I was fascinated about (interactions between animals and their environment), with tools I loved using (coding and maths). I really enjoy life as a researcher so I decided to keep on with a postdoctoral position, and here I am.
What were the biggest obstacles you had to overcome?
I would say the first obstacle I encountered was simply not knowing about research. I had this image - like many people do - of research as lab coats and test tubes. As mentioned above, it is only once I discovered other aspects of research, notably field ecology and statistics, that I got interested in research. I have been able to a relatively smooth transition from veterinary sciences to research, notably because vet training is very complete (from basic chemistry to cell biology and epidemiology). I had to learn ecology from scratch though.
The second obstacle I have encountered and will probably keep encountering is difficult collaborations. I love the collaborative aspect of research (I say more about this below) but sometimes pairs of people just do not work (because of different goals or different approaches to science). It can be particularly difficult for early-career scientists as we depend on collaborations (for instance we need a supervisor with a faculty position to sponsor our fellowship applications). Most people I have met are very open to collaborations and passionate about science though. In particular, the team I am part of at the moment (BatOneHealth: batonehealth.org) has made career development one of its priorities and they are very supportive of early-career scientists.
Who are your role models?
I would not say I have one role model in particular as everyone has their strengths and flaws, and I think there are good things to learn from different people. For instance, working with my colleague Dr. Olivier Gimenez (with whom I have collaborated during my Ph.D.) have taught me that you never stop learning, whether it is about taking classes in social sciences to improve the way you translate your research into efficient conservation practices or learn a new coding language to improve the way you analyze data. The principal investigator of my current team, Prof Raina Plowright, showed me how we can do better science by putting together people from different fields: I would have never met most of my current collaborators if she had not put us together. And so on...
Do you have advice for young women interested in pursuing a similar career?
Science can appear intimidating, but do not let it get to you! Lots of people around me come from families of researchers or have been passionate about wildlife since they were kids and have impressive naturalist knowledge. It is easy to feel like you do not fit when you do not have that background. Keep in mind that science itself is a very diverse field, in a sense that any skill can be used to advance science, and science can take different shapes. People practice science as professors in academia, some as project leaders in conservation organizations, some as freelance science communicators... Even among professors, there are lots of different profiles. Some people like being in the field or in the lab, while some like having ideas more than running the investigations. Bring your unique skills and personality, and find a niche in which you are happy! With that said, it is always easier when you have someone to guide you through the process. Talk with many people, and work with the ones you get along with. It can sound scary when you discover the field but attend seminars and conferences (lots are available online now!), chat with colleagues of your professors and mentors, etc... Again, different people practice science differently and for different reasons. Find the people who inspire you!
What do you find to be the most rewarding aspect of working in your field?
Research is such a diverse job that it is hard to pick only one. If I had to choose though, I would say that my favorite thing is developing collaborative projects, especially the inspiration impulse I get after a meeting with enthusiastic colleagues. It is so satisfying to see people with different expertise and different stories coming together to address a common question.
How do you see your field changing in the next ten years?
I hope to see research and ecosystem management become more integrated together. We always hear about how research informs management, but I think there is a lot for research to gain from management too. For instance, when practitioners set up different interventions (whether it is controlling a wild population through culling or harvesting, or translocating a species, or setting up a specific biosecurity protocol), that is an opportunity for us researchers to collect data and see how different interventions impact ecosystems, which will later help practitioners design better interventions. However, this needs to have practitioners and researchers working together before the said interventions (to decide which data to collect, when, where, etc). This is true for any applied science, not only ecosystem management, for instance, public health. So, overall, I hope to see the relationship between research and management move from a one-way relationship (research being translated into management) to a reciprocal relationship (where both advance each other).