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 Ukraine and grew up in a village there. Our house had a very big garden and lots of land, so I had quite a lot of experience with agriculture at home. I was just 4 or 5 years old when I started to help with gardening. We had lots of fruit trees and a huge potato field that required a lot of physical work. Nowadays we have equipment like tractors and can apply herbicides or pesticides to help maintain crops, but back then we did everything by hand!
I also grew up studying music and had already had my first performance by the time I was six! I decided to go further with my music study and ended up graduating from L’viv National Music Academy. The instruments I can play are the cimbalom and the recorder. A cimbalom is very complicated to play and very… big! It can have up to 360 strings that have to be hit in exactly the right place to produce a nice note. It’s probably even more complicated to play than a violin, where you have to tune every finger to the string in a certain way.
When I first came over to Australia 12 years ago, it was difficult to find a job at first. The music I studied is traditional music, so there’s less demand in the music industry for this. My first job here was as a fork lift driver, which I did for 5 years.
An example of Yuriy’s handiwork – watering system
A friend of mine, Alex Kovalchuk, asked me if I would help him with some building work on the campus around 2011. He needed to build a bird cage and polytunnels up at the Plant Genomics Centre (formerly ACPFG), so I said – of course I’d help!
In that year, we ended up completing a load of different projects together. We built 3 bird cages and plenty of polytunnels to grow plants in, it was quite a lot of work to do! I came in as a casual but ended up staying… and I’ve been here for the last 8 years.
What I love about my job the most is that I’ve learnt so much and that I get to do something different every day. There is so much variety. One day I could be driving a tractor for field preparation, and the next I could be installing irrigation systems for drought experiments in the polytunnels. I’m involved in the harvest… seed preparation… hydroponics… so many different things – and I love it!
One day it was so windy that the shed roof next to the bird cage blew clean off. Alex and I had to repair it using reinforced metal framing to make sure it doesn’t come off again. So, you never know what new challenges you’re going to face when you come to work!
As well as having Alex to teach me the maintenance side of things, I’ve had someone to show me the ‘science’ side too. Ursula Langridge, a glasshouse manager, taught me a lot of skills like phenotyping and how to look after plants. She introduced me to things that are completely new to me, like what diseases or pest problems plants could have. For example, I’m working with wheat and barley and have come across powdery mildew a lot in winter… and don’t get me started on those thrips and aphids!
I help people out whenever they come to me for assistance. That’s usually the science students – even though they have all the knowledge of their science, sometimes they still need help when it comes to using their hands and the manual work, or working outside. That’s how I can really help them because now I know how to mix both the science and the manual labour.
I get excited by projects that involve building stuff, as when you build something piece by piece, then see the end structure with a job well done, it’s like you’re building a house. And then at the end, you get to move into that house! It’s very satisfying.
For me, this job was about having the opportunity to learn something new. My training as a musician is probably why I’m so eager to learn new things. There’s so much still to learn here, so it makes me super excited to come to work each day. It’s really the perfect job; learning different skills, expanding my knowledge and enjoying myself all at once!
Yuriy next to the bird cage and polytunnels he helped construct at the PGC
I’m proud that I’ve managed to step up to the challenge – I never thought I would be able to be as versatile as a handyman!
I really like Australia. Firstly, for the climate. Secondly, for the fact that anything is achievable if you put your mind to it. Even though it was hard for me to find a job at first, once you apply yourself and expand your horizons, there’s so many opportunities out there for everyone. I think it’s a very good country.
I still play music at home, my wife and two kids support me in that. I write music and I have my own home recording studio. I’ve even made 2 CD’s of my own – I think they’re on a good level. I have hopes to maybe someday perform at Urrbrae house… it would be great but, you never know!
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.