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
I was born in Sydney…a long time ago! My Dad worked for Qantas, so travel was always a big part of the deal. When I was ten, we were whisked off to the United States for three years and returned on the delivery flight of one of the brand new Boeing 707s that Qantas were buying at the time, which are now all trashed… that does tend to make you feel a little bit old. I studied a Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Sydney, with German and French majors. I went on to teach these languages to students in high school but then married a vet who wanted to go to America to do a PhD in microbiology… so off we went back to Missouri!
I wasn’t allowed to teach in America. They had very restrictive rules that would have involved doing a lot of extra study… so I became a lab techncian. This was a great experience, as it means that when I read the methods section in a paper, I know whether I can do it or not. If I can, then it’s probably clear enough and if I can’t then there’s some detail missing. That’s a pretty valuable and uncommon skill, especially in your average ESL teacher. My husband went on to do a postdoc in Zurich. This was part of a deal made when we got married – if he wanted to his PhD in America, we had to go someplace afterwards where I could speak some German! It was there that I first started teaching English as a second or foreign language.
For a while, we lived on a small outer Island of Tonga, when our kids were six and eight. During that time I became convinced that the way to teach English to others was through whatever the people wanted to do with English. So say the students were veterinary, they’d have to answer exam questions about castrating pigs, or if they were in agriculture, they’d have to know how to write about growing bananas – that sort of thing!
Shortly after coming back to Australia, I got head hunted by the University of Adelaide. They had a lot of foreign postgrad students coming in and were struggling with defining whether the gaps were in the science they knew or in the English language skills they didn’t have yet to talk about it. So, we devised a training program, which down the track came to be known as the ‘Integrated Bridging Program’, to help with activities in the first three months of an international HDR student’s candidature (literature review, research proposal, introductory seminar). That ran for over twenty years and is still incorporated into the iCaRST Program today.
As I was getting to know science quite well through working with individual supervisors, I ended up becoming really interested in what happens next for students: trying to get papers published. There wasn’t a whole lot of help in STEM areas for this as people in my area tend to specialise in social sciences and don’t focus as much on other sciences. So, Patrick O’Connor and I wrote “the book”! ‘Writing Scientific Research Articles – Strategy and Steps’. The publisher has just asked us to consider a third edition of the book, as a lot has happened since the current one was published in 2013. The book can be used by teachers with a class or individually, as you can follow exercises that cater to your own field.
It’s been remarkably successful. Our book has been translated into two kinds of Chinese and is used all over the place. I receive invitations to go and teach all around the world because of it – I’m finding it difficult to say no! I was in Russia recently and perhaps six or seven people rushed up and said “I use your book!”, which is just amazing.
That’s really where my passion lies; giving novice scientist authors a way to effectively write papers that will get a respectful reading from referees. Whether we think the pressure of being able to publish only in English is a good thing or not, that’s the way it is at the moment for a lot of us. So, helping people to develop the skills they need for that is vital to help get the science out there. Then we have more people picking it up, developing it and using it to solve many of the massive problems we face today.
Here at Waite we have the wonderful Ron Smernik running writing courses using ‘the book’, and I’m running half day workshops for HDR students through the fabulous PAWS association. My other ‘chunk’ of time is spent working internationally with language teaching professionals. I’ve been doing a lot of work in the English for Academic Purposes field in China, which is a relatively new thing, so a lot of teachers are looking for training.
I’m working on developing a written record of my demonstration teaching technique in articles and book chapters so that when I retire – which should be very soon! – there will be access for anybody to continue the teaching. A collaborative approach between the languages professionals and the scientists is definitely one of the core aspects of a successful teaching scheme.
I didn’t think I’d end up so deeply embedded in science. It could be a consequence of being a trailing spouse to a pig vet! We were married in 1970 and that was often the way women’s careers developed then – you did what you could in the places you found yourself in. Quite serendipitously, my husband’s interests and mine have coincided in lots of ways which helped a lot. I’ve always thought that walking through doors that were open, even by a tiny crack, was the way to go. The travel has been a real highlight, as I haven’t just been a tourist but rather an invited member of communities that are all struggling with the same issues. Being able to contribute to their goal of helping teach English to scientific writers has been the most exciting thing; that’s always been the case for me.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org.