An interesting mix leads to an interesting life

5 November 2015

Joanna Bishop

Joanna Bishop, pictured with her PhD thesis, hopes to begin her dream job as an ethnobotanist in Vietnam early next year.

Joanna Bishop has done it all.

A single mum before starting university, Joanna studied natural therapies before deciding to further her interest in anatomy and physiology by enrolling in a Bachelor of Science at Waikato. She then moved to anthropology, completing a graduate diploma and Masters before finishing off with a PhD in history.

“Initially I chose these subjects because I was interested in them. However, they gave me a solid and wide perspective on the subject of medical history and the use of medicinal plants in colonial medical culture – which was the topic of my doctoral thesis,” says Joanna.

“The varied approach I’ve had to my studies has allowed me to research from a number of different perspectives and I can now call myself an interdisciplinary scholar – an attribute that helps considerably in the search for a job.”

A trip to Vietnam

No doubt this approach helped her line up her potential next job as an ethnobotanist with an NGO in Vietnam.

“I’m hoping to work with an organisation called the Social Policy Ecological Research Institute (SPERI), which is committed to reserving the land and cultural rights of ethnic minorities in Vietnam and the surrounding Mekong area."

Joanna hopes to officially start in March 2016, where she’ll work with highly skilled traditional healers from around Vietnam, learning and recording their use of medicinal plants and creating a Vietnamese pharmacopeia that she says will enhance and support people’s rights to their forest, land and plants.

Valuable experience and valuable contacts

She says the experience she's gained doing her PhD gave her the background knowledge and the research skills to help the work at SPERI. “Moreover, it was the contacts that I made as a student with anthropologists, historians and scientists and the support they gave me that has really enhanced my employment prospects.”

Other jobs Joanna has had include gardener/groundskeeper at Hamilton Zoo, mortuary technician at Waikato Hospital and wellness professional at a health retreat on the outskirts of Hamilton.

After finishing her Bachelor of Science, Joanna also travelled with the University of Waikato’s Biological Sciences Antarctica Research Division and spent three months conducting experiments on moss species in the remote deep field research camp at Cape Hallett in the Ross Sea region.

“This was one of the most exciting and life-changing experiences I’ve ever had and I will forever be grateful for the experience.”

Something tells us she might be saying that when she gets home from Vietnam, too.