Dr. Jennifer Gardy has the best jobs in the world. Most of the time she’s a senior scientist in Molecular Epidemiology at the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control and an assistant professor in UBC’s Faculty of Medicine, where her research uses DNA sequencing to solve public health problems, like figuring out how outbreaks of infectious disease begin and spread.
But when not tracking disease, Gardy works in science documentary television, subjecting herself to all sorts of indignities in the name of science communication. Since 2007, she’s floated in zero-gravity, been dunked in ice-cold water, and spun around in a human centrifuge as part of hosting many episodes of CBC Television’s long-running documentary series The Nature of Things, and since 2011 she’s been a regular guest co-host and contributor to Discovery Channel Canada’s nightly science news magazine Daily Planet.
Gardy recently released her new book, It’s Catching: The Infectious World of Germs and Microbes. The book is a spirited romp through everything young readers need to know about the weird and wonderful world of microbes. Learn more at jennifergardy.com
What is your most prized possession? Is a cat a possession? Because I’m really awfully fond of mine. The night he hid under a junked-out van in the alley and wouldn’t come out, rendering me inconsolable, was the night I realized I probably didn’t have the stamina to parent an actual human child.
Who was your childhood hero? I was a big fan of scientists – I had a set of kids books and some of the volumes talked about Louis Pasteur and Edward Jenner, and when I wasn’t reading those I was watching Bob McDonald on Wonderstruck or Bill Nye the Science Guy in his earliest incarnation on Seattle’s KING-TV show Almost Live!
Describe the place you most like to spend time. Airports, because it means you’re either going on an adventure or returning from one to see your nearest and dearest.
What was the last thing you read? For pleasure, The Orenda. For things-I-am-obligated-to-read-for-science, Relaxed Phylogenetics and Dating with Confidence, which I can assure you is not at all what it sounds like.
What or who makes you laugh out loud? I might have an advanced degree and give off the appearance of an educated and erudite individual, but I can’t get enough cat videos from the Internet. It will be my downfall.
What’s the most important lesson you ever learned? Life, and all the moments within it, is what you make it. Be proactive and bring a positive attitude to all that you do, and you’ll make out all right.
What’s your idea of the perfect day? I think I just had it – flew from Vancouver to Hong Kong for a science trip, met the famous-on-the-internet cat Brother Cream, and ate a fresh spicy crab with my bare hands in the Temple Street Market.
What was your nickname at school? I was one of a million Jennifers in school in the 80s, so it was probably something like Jennifer #6.
What would be the title of your biography? Jennifer Gardy: Never Stop Talking
If a genie granted you one wish, what would it be? I’m going to give this one to my science brethren – I wish for stable science funding here in Canada, and recognition of science’s importance across all sectors of Canadians’ lives.
What item have you owned for the longest time? In terms of things I actually still use on a regular basis, a copy of Laurie Garrett’s 1994 book The Coming Plague. It inspired my choice of career and I still consult its chapters 20 years later.
What is your latest purchase? A pile of new wardrobe items for an upcoming The Nature of Things shoot. Turns out my usual attire of cat-hair-covered black stuff doesn’t translate well on TV.
Whom do you most admire (living or dead) and why? I’ve had amazing scientific mentors – Fiona Brinkman, Bob Hancock, Bob Brunham, and Bonnie Henry – and if I could manage a tenth of their intelligence, grace, and wisdom in my daily interactions, I’d die happy.
What would you like your epitaph to say? She knew what it was to love.
If you could invent something, what would it be? Some kind of very powerful vacuum embedded in the baseboards of a house that, every day, would turn on and suck up all the pet hair from the floors. I should write to that Dyson guy…
In which era would you most like to have lived, and why? The future! As a woman in science I can’t very well imagine being happy in the past, and I always wondered what our future would look like, from 100 years out to the last moment before the end of the universe.
What are you afraid of? Losing loved ones.
Name the skill or talent you would most like to have. The ability to complete my own taxes.
Which three pieces of music would you take to that desert island? Something by my husband; Brian Eno’s Ambient 1: Music for Airports; and something that would become my coconut-picking theme song. Probably that Harry Nilsson number.
Which famous person (living or dead) do you think (or have you been told) you most resemble? Amelie. I had to grow my hair out after that film came out; the comparisons were getting a little too frequent.
What is your pet peeve? When individuals fail to consider the consequences of their actions for others, or act in a way that demonstrates they can’t see perspectives other than their own. This is most obvious in Vancouver drivers.
What are some of your UBC highlights? Working at The 432 (erstwhile satirical rag) and The Ubyssey, bZZr gardens and general mayhem on Fridays, destroying the elections commissioner’s will to live with the constant hijinks of our Radical Beer Faction party – all things that probably aren’t even close to permissible anymore.