Associate Professor Beth Loveys was recently featured in the ‘Celebrating our colleagues’ series in The University of Adelaide Staff News.
Associate Professor Beth Loveys, Associate Head of School (Learning and Teaching), School of Agriculture, Food and Wine, and Senior Fellow Advance HE and Education Specialist, is highly regarded for her development and leadership of innovative practice.
Together with Dr Karina Riggs, she received a 2019 Stephen Cole the Elder Award for ‘Excellence in the Leadership, Support and Enhancement of Teaching Practice’. Beth and Karina were also awarded a prestigious Australian Award for University Teaching in 2022 for teaching excellence.
At the time, Professor Jennie Shaw, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic) was quoted as saying, “As Education Specialists, Associate Professor Loveys and Dr Riggs have enhanced student learning and engagement through fit-for-purpose initiatives to address the needs of their students. Their curriculum enhancements have exposed undergraduate students to real-world research which has built student confidence and self-awareness in their growing scientific expertise.”
How did you end up here?
It’s been a circular and unexpected journey! I was born here in Adelaide. I went to school at Upper Sturt Primary and then Heathfield High so I’m absolutely a ‘Hills girl’. After finishing my PhD in plant ecophysiology at Flinders University, I went to the UK and did a postdoc at the University of York, looking into the effects of global climate change on plant growth. Whilst there, incidentally, I met my husband, a Mancunian (born in Manchester) who was also doing a postdoc in a similar field.
After two years, we both won postdoctoral positions at the Australian National University in Canberra and, after five years, my husband was offered a job with the CSIRO doing grapevine research … in Mildura. So our travel pattern was all a little bit left field, but nevertheless we spent three very hot years in the Riverland, in the middle of the drought and, by that time, with three young children.
And then my husband was relocated to Adelaide. So, very strangely, I kind of did a full trip around the world and it was my UK-born husband who brought me back to where I was born … and now we’re living in the Hills again!
Where did your passion for research come from?
Probably from my dad, who is also a scientist. Funnily enough, and there’s probably something slightly odd about this, he worked for CSIRO as well! When my husband was first brought back to Adelaide in his job at the CSIRO, he ended up in my dad’s old office.
My dad really inspired me to be inquisitive and interested in finding out how things worked – I remember he had insisted I learn to change the brakes and tyres on my car so I could understand how they worked … so this idea of understanding what makes things tick definitely comes from him.
What’s your area of specialisation?
I’m a plant scientist, with a specialisation in native plants. My Honours was on eucalyptus and then I looked at quandong, the native fruit, and then I was working on snowgums.
Australian native plants are pretty freaky: what they can survive and thrive in is amazing. I was driven by a desire to understand how these weird and wonderful native plants work and how they survive in such harsh conditions. Once I got a taste for that, I just wanted to know more about how plants work generally, and then my research drifted across into how climate change is affecting plants.
What would a typical work day involve for you?
I can divide my days into two sorts: I have my teaching days, where I’m in front of the students doing a performance, basically. Here at the Waite we have single day timetabling, which means that a course is delivered on a set day. So for example, I can wake up on a Tuesday morning and know that it’s time to teach Biochemistry, and I put my biochem brain in and that’s what I am for the day. So it might be a couple of lectures in the morning, and running pracs or workshops in the afternoon.
Our courses here are really hands-on, so the practical components might mean the students are out pruning vines or digging holes and sampling soil, or in the lab making solutions, doing microscopy … it’s pretty broad.
Other days, because I’m in a leadership role at the school level, I can be in back-to-back meetings, looking at issues that might span across our three programs that we teach at the Waite – food, agriculture, and viticulture and oenology programs.
I’m also the Academic Integrity Officer so I might be talking to students about plagiarism, or talking to the Faculty to make sure everyone is, for instance, on the same page with exam timetables and all that sort of stuff – it’s part of the boring process that underpins the delivery of high quality teaching. All those processes are necessary to make sure our students get the best experience and come out of their program with absolutely the best knowledge and ability to go into whatever career they choose.
Those are the kind of things that motivate me in terms of the sometimes tedious procedural things – it’s always with the end game in mind and knowing that it’s making it better for the students.
What have you been up to lately?
I’ve just come back from the first year Agricultural Production camp. We take the students down to the south-east, so Murray Bridge, Keith, Narracoorte, in relatively high rainfall systems, and look at crop production, and also sheep, cattle, even emus, and then we come back up towards the Riverland and look at avocadoes, citrus and persimmons, and then back through the Mallee so looking at really low rainfall systems just outside of Waikerie … we show them a lot in a four-day camp.
Do you have a favourite place on Waite campus?
I’ve got two. My first is the teaching labs, which is probably slightly unusual given the beautiful campus we have. But I just love being in the teaching labs with the students. It’s the place where you literally see before your very eyes students making connections between theory and practice and things just falling into place. Those lightbulb moments are absolute gold.
My second favourite place is anywhere outside on the Waite campus, particularly the Arboretum and the vineyards. I’ll often go for a walk when I need to think deeply about something. There is actually evidence that walking helps your brain. And it definitely works for me.
What is something you love most about your work?
Definitely the interaction with students and the things I learn from them. It’s circular, never a one-way conversation.
I also love working with my colleagues here. I feel like this school is a really nurturing and supportive place to work. I’ve never had anything but 100% support for any initiatives I want to try – there’s never a fear of trying something new.
I also think of my students as colleagues in lots of ways too. I work a lot with the concept of ‘students as partners’. I run a student-driven peer mentoring program here at the Waite which I started in 2017 with the idea to build a student community. This is a great example of ‘students as partners’: I was there to guide them, tell them about the sorts of things that are possible and try to remove barriers, leaving the design of activities up to them.
This year we’ve had a real success in a range of activities for students to get to know each other across the degree programs, which has always been one of my goals, otherwise there can be a culture of the ‘Aggies’, the ‘Foodies’ and the ‘Vitis’.
It seems like you genuinely care about your students.
I remember one particular student who, even towards the end of his third year, had never seemed to fully engage but then mid-way through a class we were discussing climate change and its impact on food production and something just lit up for him and he was suddenly super involved in his study. That’s why I’m here. Those are the sorts of moments that make the job pretty special. So, I never give up on anyone.
Tell us something about yourself that others may not know.
Before I got this job I had my own business which was something I could do from home while the kids were little. It was called ‘Baked by Beth’ and I supplied cafes around the Hills with muffins, biscuits and cakes. My hands are always cold, and cold hands are the key to making a good pastry because you want to try and keep everything as cold as possible. See, there’s a little bit of chemistry in everything!
This article was originally published by in The University of Adelaide Staff News. Story by Dr Simon Behenna, Internal Communications Coordinator. Photography by Isaac Freeman, Communications Assistant.