Chemistry can provide a sustainable world: Meet Rosalie Hocking

rp_RosalieHocking-300x225.jpgRosalie completed her PhD in physical and inorganic chemistry from the University Sydney in 2004.  She immediately took up a postdoctoral position at Stanford University and Stanford Synchrotron radiation laboratory, developing a range of synchrotron based spectroscopic techniques.  Since returning to Australia she held the positions of environmental spectroscopist for CSIRO Land and Water and beamline research fellow at Monash University before taking up her current position as senior lecturer in physical and analytical chemistry at James Cook University.  Underpinning her research is the question of how minerals mediate small molecule transformations including reactions such as water splitting, the reduction of carbon dioxide and the reduction of nitrogen compounds.  Her hobby projects include the development of cheap remote sensors for nitrate and phosphate, and the development of new ways to characterise and understand soils.  She is happily married and the mother of two young children.


SS: How did you get to your current position?

RH:I applied for it, interviewed for it and got it (I won’t mention the 10 or more academic positions I unsuccessfully applied for before getting this one… oops I just did …).


SS: What, or who, inspired you to get a career in science?

RH: I have always wanted to be scientist.  I grew up in a scientifically literate family both my parents have science degrees.  As I got older there were particular things I just wanted to know, so I pursued them, I have always been interested in understanding how life processes began.  When I entered university this fascination drew me towards Physics and Astronomy.  While I was at the University of Sydney I participated in the year-in-industry program at ANSTO and worked in a group looking at inorganic medicines, this interested in chemistry, particularly in inorganic chemistry.  So I finished my science degree with majors in chemistry and mathematics.  At the time I thought chemistry would be a good course to study as it would “hedge my bets” a bit.  If I couldn’t get the academic job I wanted there would be plenty of jobs in analytical chemistry I could pick up down the track.


SS: What is the most fascinating aspect of your research/work?

RH: The big questions of today are sustainability, how do we maintain our current lifestyles so that it is sustainable for 7.3 billion people?  These are questions of chemistry, how do we build catalysts that can harvest sunlight and make energy dense molecules that can be regenerated?  How do we manage our natural resources so that our environmental assets can be sustained into the future?  Communicating the importance of these issues to a broad audience is a constant challenge, as is finding ways to address these issues.  I feel privileged that I have the jobs I do where we can think about real issues and how to solve them.


SS: What attracted you to Soapbox Science in the first place?

RH: I love communicating science to people, and it sounded like a lot of fun.


SS: Sum up in one word your expectations for the day – excitement? Fear? Thrill? Anticipation?

RH: Excitement, for both the event and… I am looking forward to a weekend in Brisbane minus my kids who are 2 and 4 and a lot of work! J


SS: If you could change one thing about the scientific culture right now, what would it be?

RH: One of the things I find most frustrating in science is the criteria of “Years past PhD”. I think it is criteria which as applied really limits diversity in Australian Universities.  All scientists seem to be assessed on this criterion, no matter what they are being assessed for.  In other occupations this would be akin to age discrimination- which is illegal.


What would be your top recommendation to a female PhD student considering pursuing a career in academia?

RH: Follow your passions and your fascinations and don’t let anyone take them from you.



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