Dr Jillian Ooi Lean Sim's early training was in environmental social science but she found long hours of talking to human beings quite unsuited to her nature, and so shifted to studying plants. She pursued a PhD in Seagrass Biogeography as an Endeavour International Postgraduate Research Scholar at the University of Western Australia under the supervision of Winthrop Professor Gary Kendrick and Associate Professor Kimberly Van Niel. For her PhD, she worked on the spatial patterns and ecology of subtidal seagrass meadows in the Johor islands, where she fell irrevocably under the spell of these undervalued but extremely important ecosystems. After returning to Malaysia in 2012, Jillian started trying to increase the public profile of seagrass in Malaysia by directing her work toward understanding how seagrass meadows function as habitats and feeding grounds for fish, dugongs, and invertebrates. She works closely with industry and conservation partners to pass on scientific findings in her field for implementation and public outreach on the ground, and is optimistic that public affection for seagrass will grow the more science reveals about these remarkable plants.
Jillian leads on-going projects on (1) developing predictive models of seagrass distribution in Southeast Asia, (2) developing a multi-scale approach to coral restoration, and (3) developing spatial models of dugong feeding behaviour in the seagrass meadows of Johor, Malaysia.
When she is not underwater watching grass grow, Jillian is the Artistic Director and Music Director of Rhythm in Bronze, an award-winning contemporary gamelan ensemble based in Kuala Lumpur. Founded in 1997, Rhythm in Bronze is known for its pioneering efforts in showcasing the Malay gamelan as its main medium of musical expression. Jillian’s music direction and compositions for the gamelan have won awards and/or received nominations at the BOH Cameronian Arts Awards, which celebrates outstanding performances in music, dance, theatre and musical theatre in Malaysia. She considers the Sea her main source of musical inspiration.