It seemed a logical choice at the time. For a boy growing up with a sciency bent in a small and unremarkable country town in northern New South Wales, it seemed engineering as a career made sense, or so said my rather unimaginative high school careers advisor. Off to the big smoke I went, and 6 months into a chemical engineering degree, I fell in love with .... biology.
Engineering and I negotiated an amicable separation and my new crush led ultimately to a postgraduate degree at the University of New South Wales (Sydney), where I developed research skills and credibility in phylogenetic systematics of plants. After graduating I was off overseas where I worked on the evolution of photosynthesis in bromeliads, using a phylogenetic approach, at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama and Oxford University in the UK.
I returned home to Sydney in early 2000 and after a period of research odd-jobbing (ranging from taxonomically revising a small genus of vascular plants, to working on the genetics of gestational diabetes), I landed dream job #1: Tropical Botanist at the National Herbarium of NSW. A hugely satisfying 6 years of research and practical herbarium taxonomy ensued, until as fate would have it dream job #2 emerged, fully formed, seemingly from nowhere. Strange how the most wonderful things happen when you least expect them.
Dream job #2 is what I do now: Director of the Australian Tropical Herbarium, a joint venture between CSIRO, the Queensland Government, The Australian Government Dept. of the Environment, and James Cook University. This dynamic and growing organisation, located on JCU’s Cairns campus, aims to be a significant global player in tropical plant biodiversity research. My role is roughly equal parts management/leadership and research. The latter involves studies of the origins, evolution and classification of plants and deals broadly with the questions: how many plant species exist, where do they occur, how are they related and how have they evolved? More specifically this research is:
• discovering, naming and classifying new plant species and determining the evolutionary relationships among them,
• mapping the distribution of ecosystems, species and genetic variation within species across the landscape,
• developing DNA-based tools and ‘matrix keys’ for species identification and rapid biodiversity inventory
• uncovering the deep-time origins and ancient migration pathways of plants that are found in tropical Australia today
I’ve been lucky enough that research has taken me to many biomes and countries including the Republic of Panama, Venezuela, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, New Caledonia, Malaysia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.
In addition to institutional and science community leadership and research roles, I contribute to biodiversity and science policy development and implementation through roles on a number of advisory committees and expert panels for the Australian and State governments, and the non-governmental research sector.