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I wanted to use my move back to the United Kingdom as an opportunity to reset and rebalance. I am fortunate in that the United Kingdom does not operate on a tenure system: I have a permanent faculty position. And yet the work still creeps into nonoffice hours. A last-minute funding applica- tion, a lecture to finish writing, marking that needs to be done, urgent student emails... Now I am looking forward to the summer break as a chance to rebalance, especially as the long days will allow more opportunities for walking, cycling, and spending time in nature, my favorite activities!
What makes you a good acoustician?
The people I work with. I do not think it is possible to be a good solo acoustician. This is such an interdisciplinary field with so many different aspects. To fully encompass these, it is necessary to work together, combine knowledge, and share ideas. I was fortunate to undertake my acoustical training alongside people with different backgrounds. At the CMST, there was a mix of biologists, computational scientists, engi- neers, and physicists. But beyond having different skill sets, they were all good people to work with: happy to explain concepts, discuss ideas, suggest techniques, and give sup- port. At Portsmouth, I am now working with an enthusiastic mix of marine biologists, computational scientists, and even cosmologists as well as industry collaborators. I think that this supportive team environment is extremely important, for both younger and more experienced academics! And that is the kind of environment I want to cultivate for my own students going forward.
How do you handle rejection?
Poorly! But once the mix of indignant anger and crushing despair has passed, I am generally able to look at the result objectively and think “how could I succeed next time?” An important part of that is to consider what went wrong and how could it be improved but also to acknowledge the good parts. So, whether it is a paper submission, grant application, or job opportunity, I always try to get feedback. An emer- gency chocolate stash also helps!
What are you proudest of in your career?
Persevering enough to have one. I come from a single-parent, low-income family and was the first in my family to attend university. I had never even dreamed it was in the cards but am thankful to have achieved undergraduate, master’s, and PhD degrees! I love to learn and always want to know more.
Now I have the chance to share this passion with students as well as stories of the various adventures I’ve had along the way. I also really enjoy doing science outreach and school- level engagement for this reason. How many kids out there have never considered science as a career, thought they were too poor or too stupid, or just not had the opportunities they needed? Maybe sharing our own individual stories can help encourage others to consider new things.
What is the biggest mistake you’ve ever made?
There are several things that I cringe to look back on. But with each, it is a case of learning and moving on. A par- ticular example for me was participating in a research project where I experienced bullying. I spent several months volunteering as part of a small team in the field, dealing with daily belittling, nasty comments and a lot of negativity from another team member plus the lead investigator. Disappointingly, both were female. So much for the scientific sisterhood! I deeply regret not standing up for myself. Since then, I have found that many other people have had similar interactions with these particular people, which has made me feel a bit better. But unfor- tunately, there seems to be a recurrent idea that research volunteers are “just” volunteers and of lesser value than other team members and so less deserving of respect. As a result, instead of viewing my experience as a mistake or something to regret, I have tried to use it as a basis for my own research philosophy: ideas about how teams should function, how people should be treated, and what kind of leader I want to be. My research relies heavily on volunteers assisting with fieldwork and data review, and I often recruit undergraduates with no previous experi- ence. I hope that by giving them that vital experience in a positive environment, where they can feel secure to learn, ask questions, and work as a team, that they will not only benefit now but also in the future. Hopefully, if they know how a good research environment operates, they will have the courage to speak up against negative ones.
What advice do you have for budding acousticians?
Find yourself a good group of people. These might be your peers, your supervisors, your mentors, your lab mates... It is easy to be swayed by an exciting project, but without a good team, even the sexiest project can quickly dis- integrate. If you find people who will support you both professionally and personally, you will go a long way.
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