There are roughly 1,500 people on the Waite campus – from students to professors, technicians to human resource managers, and even volunteers. They work and study across a range of campus partner organisations.

This series of articles will introduce you to some members of the Waite community – who they are, what they do, and why it matters!


Interview by Emma Aspin

Hi! I’m Bianca Kyriacou and I’m the Why Waite manager and outreach coordinator for the School of Agriculture, Food and Wine here at the Waite campus.

I’ve always wanted to do be involved with food. I mean, in all honesty, I actually wanted to be on Broadway… but apparently you need to be good at singing and dancing for that so, whatever! Anyway – food has always been a big thing for me. I remember being in high school and trying to think of a career that would meld together my passion for food and for science. There were options like making cheese, making beer… which in hindsight, would all have been amazing! I decided to choose biotechnology though because it had more of a molecular focus as well as talking about food technology.

I was fortunate enough to get a PhD scholarship through Flinders with a supervisor who had just moved over from the Waite: Professor James Stangoulis. I was able to do my PhD at both Flinders and the Waite campus through an inter-campus collaboration. My project was based on increasing iron in rice grains for human consumption using a genetic approach; identifying the bioavailability of iron, and subsequent cadmium uptake.

During that time, I found myself working pretty much full time for the Plant Cell Wall group at the Waite whilst trying to write up my thesis (juggling that much is not recommended!). The group were working with things like beer and dietary fibre, so it still had that food element, but to me it wasn’t the right fit. I had a lot of support to move on from that role but I didn’t know how to – it was a scary prospect. What I did know though, was that I liked science communication… but I didn’t know how to get a job in it.

I was in talks with Paul Grbin in the School of Agriculture Food and Wine for a little while as I’d volunteered for things he had organised, like the University’s display at the Royal Adelaide Show. He knew I enjoyed doing this sort of thing and graciously gave me a small role to run the stall at the show that year. That role has literally been how I’m still here and it just grew and propelled from there.

Why Waite has been running for the past four years. It’s mainly been about liaising with the Faculty of Science for the University Open Day at North Terrace, setting up the Royal Adelaide Show exhibit, and running the National School Wine Show awards  – as well as trying to develop a program for outreach.

The outreach had been a ‘let’s see how far we can take it’ approach … and we’ve taken it pretty far! Over the past four years we’ve managed to host a minimum of 4,000 students per year. In 2019 we saw 9,053 students.

Bianca and Debbie Devis talking to schol students at the 2019 Royal Adelaide Show

 I’m a massive fan of the Waite campus. It’s beautiful. There’s something about working here that makes it feel like we aren’t a university institution. Technically we are, but there’s so many other partners on campus that makes us more than just the university research programs and undergraduate degrees. There’s more community here than is ever realised, and I love sharing that with people.

We can get visiting students excited by the heritage of Urrbrae house, walk them through the arboretum and show them the bee hotel put there by Katja Hogendoorn, one of our researchers.

We can stroll up to the plant accelerator and say hey, see that plant that’s growing up the side of Hartley Grove? That’s Atriplex, an old man salt bush – you can eat that! It’s a native food. That opens up a discussion about Carolyn Schultz and Kate Delaporte’s work – every part of our campus has evidence of the researchers on this campus. It’s just so exciting! Especially when you see the students start considering a future of science for themselves.

There’s been an expansion of the program by having a collaboration with Wirltu Yarlu to include students from the South Australian Aboriginal secondary training Academy (SAASTA). As well as new ventures, we also see schools that return year after year. We’ve seen the entire cohort from Year 8 up to Year 11 from Unley High School and Norwood Morialta High School – and we see that happen because teachers are spreading the word. We’re also seeing that happen because our volunteers have been so incredible. Like Debbie Devis, who started off as a volunteer in 2016 and is now employed to work for Why Waite.

Hopefully we will see the expansion continue because it’s clearly valuable and there is strong demand from the teachers and schools who keep coming back – I can only see this growing! It’s helpful for students to see what research is like and what it involves, even though it can be rudimentary and crude. Our strawberry DNA extractions use detergent and salt, yet the teachers and kids are still losing their minds over it! We can show them DNA gel electrophoresis, even though it’s food colouring that’s our DNA sample. The teachers love it, as they don’t have those facilities to show to the students and it expands their classrooms learning.

We’re used to hearing about some 400 year old white man researcher who discovered something years ago and is now celebrated… but we have people doing research here, right now! That’s worth celebrating. All of the things I regret in my science career have been because of fear that held me back, so that’s why I’m ridiculously passionate about community building; that’s the kind of support network you need to have the advice to go forward, to take that job or to run that project.

Things like the Women of Waite lunches (not exclusively for women!) and the Waite Social Club are great for this – I want to see more people coming! Even if you’re not a drinker, or you have to go pick up the kids soon… come down and have a pretzel with me and chat for 10 minutes. Without these incentives, how would we connect with others on the campus? We could be missing out on a great mentor, collaborator or friend without even realising. If we’re not building up that community, we’re not going to be able to support each other through hard times.

My go to ice breaker is ‘what do you like to do on a Wednesday?’. I get so many crazy responses, which is what I like to hear. I’m opening it up. Your response tells me a lot about yourself. And if you, the reader, don’t have much to do on a Wednesday… I have the perfect solution! Why Waite runs on a Wednesday & Thursday, typically. We’d love some volunteers! The work we do is awesome and I can’t wait for others to be a part of it.


About the Author:

Emma Aspin is a second-year PhD student from the UK with a passion for science communication. Upon arrival to the Waite, Emma was astounded by the diversity of workers, students and scientists across the campus and knew that there were some great stories to be told! As well as having some fun, the column is a great opportunity to discuss your work and have a chance to reach the public or even future collaborators.

If you would like to be featured in the column and have time to chat to Emma sometime, drop her an email: emma.aspin@adelaide.edu.au.

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