University of Dundee

Tracy Palmer's 8 years as Head of MMB

29 May 2017

Professor Tracy Palmer is stepping down as Head of Molecular Microbiology (MMB) after 8 years in the position. When Tracy took over from Geoff Gadd in 2009, the division was very much in its infancy. Over that time, Tracy has strived to form a sense of identity and instil an ethos of togetherness within the division. More widely, Tracy has made Dundee known to be a place of excellent research in microbiology to the research community. I met with Tracy to look back on her time at the helm of MMB and to look forward to the exciting new opportunities ahead.

One key phrase Tracy said encapsulates how she approached leading the division, “Always we, not me and them. We are a team.” This ethos took many forms including allowing everyone to have a say and celebrating all achievements within the division, no matter how big or small. The informal celebration events provided the opportunity for everyone to come together in a more relaxed environment and allow relationships to build across the labs and between levels. This and valuing all members has led to integration between groups and a departmental team spirit. 

Putting Dundee on the map in regards to microbiology research was another key area for Tracy. MMB is quite a small department when you compare it to other institutions who work in the field such as Birmingham who have almost five times as many research groups.  One step was to invite diverse speakers, many leaders in their respective areas, to take part in the external seminar programme. “The speakers have lunch with students and coffee with postdocs without a PI in sight giving them the opportunity for a more informal interaction with leaders in their field,” explained Tracy. Every aspect is about inclusion and building confidence in the more junior department members including the undergraduate honours project students who are made to feel part of the division from day one.

During Tracy’s tenure, the likes of Sarah Coulthurst and Helge Dorfmueller have joined the department. Tracy is clear to point out the contributions made by these individuals and all members of MMB over the years. Particular highlights include Frank Sargent spearheading the very successful and multi award winning iGEM programme since 2011 and Nicola, the public engagement event, Magnificent Microbes, which the whole department takes part in.

I asked Tracy about what legacy she hopes to leave and what she would like to do now with that extra little bit of free time, “Set examples and provide encouragement with the hope that those you interact with pay-it-forward. I plan to continue to support the next generation but more widely by joining grant panels and doing something for the microbiology field UK-wide. I particularly want to support young female scientists.”

Nicola Stanley-Wall has been appointed Head of Division with Sarah Coulthurst as Deputy.