NESSE News: Meet the Team

Editor’s note: This week, our Director of Marketing & Communications, Alex, writers to tell you more about the NESSE board, including all the stuff you never thought you would want to read about!


Executive Director: Dr Jennifer Dodson – London, UK

Executive Director: Natalie O’Neil – New York, USA

Director of Marketing & Communications: Alexandra Hicken – London, UK

Director of Membership Activities: Dr Norman Spencer – North Carolina, USApresentation2

Director of Research: Dr Cristiano Varrone – Denmark

Vice Director of Research: Daniel Pleissner – Germany

Director of Sustainable Science Groups: Chian Chan – Malaysia

Executive Board Support: Tabitha Petchey – York, UK


How did you get involved with NESSE?

  • JD: I set-up NESSE! Although it has evolved from the original vision and the excitement is seeing how new people who get involved develop their own creative ideas and activities.
  • NO: I joined NESSE’s mentorship program in March 2015 and was connected with some great sustainable scientists. I then took on the Marketing and Communications role for 2015-2016 and now I am transitioning to share the executive director duties with Jennifer Dodson.
  • AH: I previously worked with Jennie at the University of York and via some careful arm twisting, she persuaded me to apply for a board position.
  • NS: I learned about NESSE in mid-2014 from an online webinar from the American Chemical Society and registered as a member the same day. A while later, I received an email detailing upcoming events and available volunteer positions.
  • CV: I attended a Workshop on BioEconomy organized by NESSE in collaboration with the University of York, and I was highly impressed by the positive energy, the proactive attitude and the very international atmosphere.
  • DP: I saw the announcement for open board position and applied, now I’m in!  
  • CC: I think I was introduced to NESSE either by a friend or newsletter from the University of Newcastle, one of the newsletters was calling for volunteers to be Global Challenges Officer hence I got more actively involved.
  • TP: I helped Jennie with a NESSE-run event and she invited me to apply for the position.


What do you do on an average day?

  • JD: My days are really varied. I run events, meet and discuss ideas with lots of interesting people across government, academia and NGOs or write briefing papers sharing what research to fund or how to fund it better.
  • NO: On MWF I teach chemistry lab and lectures at a small liberal arts school in upstate New York and on T/TH I am conducting research and writing to finish up my Ph.D. degree in Albany, NY.
  • AH: An average day consists of a couple of sweaty tube journeys, working in the lab and having lunch with my research group – which is obviously the best part of the day. I’m always excited to spend an hour or so with my colleagues chatting about recent events.
  • NS: I work full-time for Safe Alliance, a victim services agency that provides hope and healing in the form of advocacy, mental health counselling and legal assistance to over 12,000 survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence and human trafficking in the Metropolitan Charlotte area.
  • CV: I always start my day with a good cappuccino (would not be able to leave home without it) and am ready to bike to work only after that. I usually spend half of my day in the lab and half in the office, elaborating data, reading new articles, writing, etc.
  • DP: I stare at my laptop screen!
  • CC: Mapping out stakeholders for NESSE and Agridon; meeting clients and stakeholders and identifying funding opportunities for both organisations.
  • TP: Probably about 5 h in the lab and several more at my desk. Have lunch with lab-mates.


What is your dream career?

  • JD: I’m really lucky to be doing pretty much my dream career. I work to make sure we fund and use research for international development in the best way. I look at what research we need in the future, bring people together about how to support interdisciplinary research and look at how to get research into use.
  • NO: Working for an organization that promotes sustainable science and research in academia. Working with universities and abs to address their hazardous waste programs, energy consumption and how sustainability can be applied in the laboratory.
  • AH: I think my dream career might not actually be a career that is currently possible to pursue but to be able to use my passion for sustainability in order to directly improve people’s quality of life sums it up nicely.
  • NS: I am happy that my dream career is exactly what I do now: working in multiple professions and with multiple organisations. I could never feel truly happy and useful to society if I only ever worked in one profession.
  • CV: I would like to develop an independent research career.
  • DP: A permanent position in academia would be awesome!
  • CC: My dream career is to be able to be an independent consultant and having my own research group/company/entity with a track record of supporting career development of other professionals.
  • TP: It would be nice to do something to encourage sustainable living in the general public or to provide some alternative means of sustainable living that is accessible.


What is your favorite hobby?

  • JD: I love dancing…particularly forro, a Brazilian country-dance that I’m completely addicted to. If you haven’t heard of it check it out!
  • NO: My favorite hobby is snuggling my dog Tyson and taking hikes with him and my husband.
  • AH: My favourite hobby is travelling around the UK to watch my hometown football (soccer!) team. Sometimes it’s quite an enjoyable hobby, but most of the time it brings out the cynicism in me.
  • NS: Two of my most favourite hobbies are fashion and music. I enjoy developing a wardrobe possessive of all the essential contemporary and modern staples. I can (and have) easily passed an entire day traversing the many clothing and shoe shops. I play both trumpet and French horn; in addition, I currently sing for a few local groups in the Metro Charlotte area.hobbies
  • CV: There are many, starting from birdwatching and hiking, snorkeling, playing music, cooking…
  • DP: Writing scientific papers!
  • CC: My favourite hobbies include playing the piano, swimming, hiking, trekking, cycling, dancing, cooking, attending classical and dance concerts, racquet sports, reading New Scientists (occasionally National Geographic) and reading books.
  • TP: Hmm… possibly playing the piano, or attempting ill-advised DIY.


Do you have a guilty pleasure?

  • JD: Romantic period dramas. When the present world gets too much I retreat to Jane Austen.
  • NO: Watching terrible reality TV when I just need an escape from my own reality.
  • AH: My guilty pleasure is definitely anything I can collect – my current collections include magnetic bottle openers, used football match tickets and cute soft toys called tsum tsums (you never know when any of these things are going to come in handy!)
  • NS: I do not particularly have a guilty pleasure, but the closest to one would be wine. I enjoy tasting different wines, drinking them, collecting them and learning the properties of different wines. In particular, I have a fondness for Spanish wines due to my heritage.
  • CV: Not really. I don’t feel that guilty when doing what I like.
  • DP: Yes 😉 !
  • CC: Yes, listening to Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance.
  • TP: Several – not limited to but including cake.


Where’s the one place you would like to visit?

  • JD: Too many places. However, I’m trying to keep my air miles down, so the Scottish Isles would be top of my list currently.
  • NO: Anywhere I haven’t been before, I find traveling more about the adventure than about the destination.
  • AH: I’m conscious that recently my air miles have been a little on the excessive side, so like Jennie would also like to visit the Scottish Highlands – maybe we organise a NESSE retreat?
  • NS: I would desperately love to visit Iceland. I am in the midst of planning a trip to Iceland with a close friend of mine!
  • CV: Hawaii.
  • DP: I have a long list of places I would like to visit, too many but no time…!
  • CC: It would be the Arctic before all its’ ice sheets melt away into oblivion due to global warming.
  • TP: At the moment, I would love to visit Sweden.


Finally… What’s the main thing that you would like to achieve whilst working within NESSE?

  • JD: I want loads more people to feel connected to a community and feel that they can set-up something locally through inspiration from NESSE. This year I really want to make sure we get some funding so we can employ someone and ensure NESSE can grow. I am so excited about all the new energy and enthusiasm from the new Directors who have joined.
  • NO: My motivation for working with NESSE is to spread sustainable science to early career scientists and engineers that may not be exposed to it at their university or in their career field. To do this we need to achieve 501(c)(3) status and start applying for grants, this is my main objective over the next year.
  • AH: My main aim whilst working with NESSE is to make sure that the fantastic work achieved by NESSE members is communicated as effectively and as widely as possible.
  • NS: There are many things I would like to accomplish, but in particular, I really want to help curate an active, excited and tireless member body. In order to achieve this goal, I want to lay the framework for seamless electronic communication between members, a robust and developed jobs and opportunity board and developing a specialised team of committed and talented volunteers that will serve as our membership’s frontline.
  • CV: Increase our impact on the Sustainable Development Goals, together with our SDG-Team, and consolidate the NESSE webinar series.
  • DP: Getting a paper published showing that NESSE members can work together to solve a sustainable issue.
  • CC: NESSE being financially viable and self-sustaining non-profit organisation with a track record of spawning other financially viable and self-sustaining organisations.
  • TP: As I am in a supporting role, I most want to ensure that the goals of NESSE are met: in particular, that we reach out to as many people as possible.