I am currently a Senior Lecturer in the School, having become a member of academic staff in the department in 2006 (To link to Irene's Staff Page, click here).
What inspired you to pursue a career in environmental sciences?
The environment surrounding us, and how it changes over time, have always fascinated me. I can remember watching the stars shining in the night sky as a little girl, wondering why they changed position during the year. I looked mystified at the remnants of our historical past, surprised by how some artefacts our ancestors had discarded now provided clues to their lives.
My thoughts then turned to reflect upon the elements that characterise our current society, our growth and impact on our surroundings, the challenges to managing these and the legacy we are transmitting to future generations. What will become to the mountains of waste we generate each day? Where do unsold goods go to? Who suffers as a consequence of our materialistic consumption preferences? Is this really necessary? And why is it so difficult to change our behaviours and practices?
These questions led me naturally to pursue a degree in environmental sciences (an area which I had not had the opportunity to pursue through formal study until reaching university) after which I was fortunate enough to embark upon a career researching those very elements which occupied my thoughts at an earlier age.
Who encouraged you along the way? (Who are your role models and heroes?)
So many people at different stages in my life have encouraged me to pursue and continue in my current career path.
During my first formative years my parents and extended family were the most influential. They showed me the world (we travelled and lived in a variety of countries including South America and central / southern Europe), encouraged me to appreciate its beauty and concurrently question what I was seeing. They taught me what science and research are about, the importance of rigour, perseverance and lateral thinking.
Later I was able to build on these foundations as some inspirational high school teachers demonstrated the value of an interdisciplinary approach to learning, making connections and links between different areas, subjects and time periods.
I then encountered some wonderful lecturers at university (in whose footsteps I follow), who built upon and expanded my knowledge and understanding, leading me to question what makes human beings so complex and sometimes intractable.
The support of peers and colleagues since I've embarked upon my research has been invaluable in encouraging me to explore all these aspects further.
What do you most enjoy about your job?
The interdisciplinarity of my research is what makes it exciting every day. This involves collaborating with a multitude of colleagues specialising in different disciplines, learning from progress in these areas, understanding how they relate to each other and may pave new areas of work at the frontiers of our knowledge is exhilarating – and having the relative freedom to pursue these.
Naturally, there are also a variety of challenges in this work, especially enabling the understanding among disciplines which is not easy to achieve and requires interested and engaged individuals. An important aspect of this work is also sharing the insights derived from my research with the students I teach and supervise.
What do you particularly appreciate or enjoy about working in ENV?
ENV's collegiate and supportive environment makes it a rewarding place to work. It is a department where equality is strongly supported across all levels, where individuals are rewarded for their merits and achievements. The atmosphere in the School is friendly and collaborative, where creativity and innovation are encouraged. The culture is to provide conditions to all (staff and students) to flourish, taking into account their personal characteristics, changing circumstances and personal abilities.
The multicultural cohorts of students who study and frequent ENV add to the diversity of the department. As a lecturer and student adviser, dialogue with the students as they progress through their degrees is a fundamental part of the work I carry out, and is essential in terms of knowledge formation and exchange.
How easy is it to achieve the balance you would like between an interesting career and your other responsibilities and interests?
Inevitably there are challenges in balancing an interesting career with other responsibilities and duties, which in my case relate mainly to family. Generally speaking the desire to perform well in both spurs me to make the most of the time available for each.
A senior colleague once gave me the advice of not trying to do both at once: to use family time precisely for this purpose, and work time for furthering my career. I have found this to be a useful device to allocate my focus and energy to the task in hand.
The flexibility in the workplace allows me to accomplish my responsibilities. Alongside supportive colleagues and family members the balance is possible, but I have found that it has to be constantly revisited in relation to changing circumstances and requirements from both sides.
What are some of the most memorable moments of your career?
The publications of my first research papers in peer-reviewed journals still stand out in my mind. I was exhilarated when confirmation was received that the work we had submitted was accepted by the journal which we had submitted to. The team effort in undertaking the research and helping me publish it was invaluable.
For me this was the culmination of such a complex learning curve where as a relative novice to research I had been assisted in producing a good piece of research that was deemed worthy of publication (and therefore public exposure and scrutiny) by a peer community. My contribution was in print - my name would become known alongside those of my collaborators and hopefully provide some of the foundations for our and others' future work.