After seeing the film Gorillas in the Mist as a child, Dr Jodie Ward was inspired by the zoologist Dian Fossey to study a Bachelor of Science at ANU.
"I had aspirations to be a Zoologist - my ultimate goal being to work in Africa conserving the critically endangered mountain gorilla populations."
But during her degree, Jodie's focus shifted to forensic science.
"Halfway through my degree, I observed two autopsies as part of my Anatomy and Physiology class and from there my interest in forensic science developed."
Today, Jodie leads the NSW Health Pathology's Specialist DNA Laboratory which works to identify unknown and missing persons in New South Wales.
"I am passionate about using DNA technology to provide answers for families with missing loved ones, and feel privileged to make such a positive difference to society."
Jodie understands the challenges of working in a competitive industry where jobs are scarce and advises graduates to keep pursuing their passion.
"You have to stand out from the crowd. I'm also a big believer in embracing opportunities when they present themselves. Some of the opportunities I've had in my career have been game-changers. And do something you are passionate about - keep trying new things until you discover what that is!"
Jodie has been widely recognised for her achievements, receiving the 2015 Churchill Fellowship.
"I travelled to laboratories in Europe, the USA and South America in 2016, and have since devised, published and promoted a number of international best practice recommendations for the establishment of an Australian DNA identification program for missing persons."
In 2017, Jodie was recognised as a Superstar of STEM, giving her the opportunity to share her love for science with the public, and be a role model and advocate for women in STEM.
"I recently completed a tour of five public high schools on the NSW Far South Coast (where I grew up) to inspire regional and rural female students to pursue a career in STEM. I also mentored a local Bega girl aspiring to be a forensic scientist and assisted with her transition from high school to university."
The role of mentors is valued by Jodie, who remains grateful for guidance she received during her studies.
"I will be forever grateful to Professor Rod Peakall who encouraged me to pursue postgraduate research after finishing my science degree. He convinced me that I had the ability to undertake a PhD, something I had never even considered. I'm pretty sure I didn't even know what a PhD was, let alone had the confidence to think that this was something I could undertake."