The Genuinely Magnificently Oarsome Heather Bray Joins RealScientists!

IMG_20131121_173816This week we have the lovely Heather Bray curating RealScientists. Heather is doing fascinating stuff with Agriculture and GMOs (apologies for the orsome average title), and normally tweets @heatherbray6. Heather is a Senior Research Associate at the School of History and Politics, University of Adelaide, Australia.

Why/How did you end up in science?

Just natural curiosity I guess. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t learning or finding out stuff. We had lots of reference books at home when I grew up and I loved reading through them. I wanted to be an archeologist at first, fascinated about the combination of science and history. Then I encountered agriculture! This was science you could eat! It grew and moved and people were a part of it. I loved it! I was lucky enough to go the the National Science Summer School (now National Youth Science Forum) at the beginning of Year 12 and that was when I definitely decided I was going to do a PhD and be a scientist. To be paid to find out stuff – how cool!

Why did you choose your current field/what keeps you there?

Well the getting paid to find out stuff didn’t go so well for me. A combination of some unfortunately personal circumstances and inability to attract my own salary in a system that was (and arguably still is) unfair meant that I wasn’t long in research. I had to find something else to do with my life and I naively decided that if I could make more people understand the importance of science then other people wouldn’t have to go through what I did. So I became a science communicator. After a few years I knew that we needed to think differently about how we engage the community in discussions about science in agriculture and food, so I started on a path to move back to research. Now, after 14 years, I’m back in full-time research, working on projects looking broadly at how people relate to science in food production. Getting paid to find out stuff. Yeah!

Tell us about your work?

I’m a research-only academic, in a History department. I work on two main projects – one on perceptions of animal welfare in livestock production and the other looking at the history of genetic manipulation science, activism, regulation and community attitudes in Australia. We’ve just finished a project on ‘ethical’ food choices and there are lots of other little projects in that space too. I love what I’m doing now. It is challenge being interdisciplinary but it’s what we need to be doing to solve complex problems.

Motivation: why should the lay public care about your research/work?

Ultimately my work aims to enable the community to have the conversations we need to have about how our food is produced now and into the future. Conversations are two way things. I want to find ways to get scientists, food producers and the broader community talking together about food production in a way that all can be understood and make sense of the trade-offs we may need to make.

Do you have any interesting external/extracurricular obligations?

I’m still involved with a community radio program that I started in my old job. I really enjoy it and have just been asked to join the station’s advisory board. I’m also on our local Australian Science Communicators committee

Any interesting hobbies you’d like to share?

I’m an academic and a single parent, so there’s not a lot of time! I’m a little bit nanna and I like to crochet and sew and make things. At the moment I’m running and I’m doing my first ever fun run, Adelaide’s City to Bay on my last @realscientists day.

How would you describe your ideal day off?

Spending the day with a good friend, walking around looking at stuff, an Art Gallery, endless chatter, ending with a fabulous meal and a glorious wine.

It will be great to hear about things from an interdisciplinary standpoint this week. Everybody please give a warm welcome to Heather!

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About Sarah (@DrSMMorgan)

I'm a Research Fellow at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. I work in the meld space between compulsory education and tertiary scientific research; we develop teaching modules using the real research stories around us in the Developmental Origins of Health and Disease field. Engagement is the name of the game - creating opportunities for teachers, students and scientists to interact, and enrich learning on all sides. Scicomm is my passion, though I come from a molecular genetics research background.

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