Academic journal article Teaching Science

Heather Patterson

Academic journal article Teaching Science

Heather Patterson

Article excerpt


When scientists are interviewed in the media or profiled in textbooks there tends to be a firm focus on discoveries made and almost no mention of personal detail. This results in a monochromatic view of science and scientists being presented.

In this interview with Dr Heather Patterson we have tried to place equal emphasis on personal detail as career and scientific achievements. The responses to the questions put to Heather are unedited so that science teachers and students can hear the scientist without a layer of editing added to the communication. The interview was conducted in March, 2007 just after Heather concluded several months working on Lord Howe Island as the Acting Marine Park Manager.

What is your favourite food?

Authentic Mexican cuisine, which is hard to find in Australia.

Do you eat fish?

Always eat your study animal. What you like to do on your days off?

Hang out with friends, catch up on reading and, sadly, work. Also all those things like laundry that must be done.

Who's your favourite scientist?

Certainly there are a few that can't be ignored like Einstein and the Big D (Darwin).... more recently I would say people like Edward O. Wilson and I have recently discovered Brian Green, a physicist who wrote "The Elegant Universe" about string theory.

Did you collect things as a child? If so, what did you collect?

Not really. Everyone in my family liked collecting things so I was the opposite and liked getting rid of clutter.

Who was your favourite teacher at high school?

Surprisingly, my science teachers were not my favorites. Instead I always enjoyed my literature classes the most.

What made them your favourite teacher?

The literature teachers I had at high school were just great teachers and made reading books and discussing them fun. They loved their work and it showed in their teaching so I always looked forward to attending them.

Do you own a lab coat? If so, how old is it and when did you last wear it?

I do not own a lab coat. I do however have an extensive collection of wet suits in various states of disrepair.

When did you first know that you were a biologist?

I was always a bit of a geek (in a cool way of course) and knew I was interested in pursuing some sort of science career. For most of my childhood I was keen to become a medical doctor, but that changed as I approached university years and realised I would be happier with one of the natural sciences where you got to go outside and play.

What interested you in becoming a fish biologist? I mean fish, are slippery, slimy smelly things! What makes a girl want to spend her life working with them?

I have never really been a girly girl, so slimy things never bothered me. I was doing my degree in marine biology but didn't really know what direction I wanted that to take until my undergraduate supervisor (a real hard core fishy person) employed me as his research assistant and I got really into the work.

Name the person who has influenced you most in your career?

I don't think there has been one person, but instead quite a few people. For example, my Dad loved fishing and nature in general. He used to show me all the cool pictures in National Geographic when I was a kid and I was fascinated. Certainly my undergrad supervisor Jon, mentioned above, had a lot of influence on me, as did my PhD supervisor Mike. And certainly other women in the field have had an influence; from former supervisors to postdocs in the lab when I was doing my Phd. Seeing women in senior roles was a positive influence on me.

Can you briefly outline your career path?--degrees, consultancies, who you have worked with?

BSc in marine biology (honours equivalent) and an MSc from Florida Tech, then I was a fisheries biologist with the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission for a few years. …

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