New York, New York: so good they named it twice. Exactly like Wagga Wagga. Or Wagga, to its friends. Wagga is the home – or one of, to be fair – of Australia’s biggest inland university, Charles Sturt University. It’s also the home of our next RealScientist curator, molecular parasitologist and education researcher Dr Andrea Crampton of CSU’s Institute of Land, Water and Society and School of Biomedical Sciences.
Andrea, rather self-deprecatingly, says she got into science because of ‘natural curiosity and no creative talent’, but she’s certainly taken a creative path to where she now is. After completing her BSc in 1994 (working on the phylogeny, or evolutionary relationships, of cattle tick species for her Honours, which she scored a First), Andrea completed her PhD on the genetic basis of pesticide resistance in ticks in 1999, both at the University of Queensland in Brisbane. She then took up a postdoctoral position at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Virginia. Whilst in the USA, she worked on a US Army funded project exploring the genetic basis of the Anopheles mosquito’s immune response to plasmodium infection. This work demonstrated that the genes involved in the mosquitoes’ response to infection are related to the genes involved in the human hosts’ response to the parasite. After 3 years in the US Andrea returned to Australia to take up a postdoctoral position at the CRC for Diagnostics at Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane. This resulted in a career switch into chasing humans rather than mosquitoes, on a project seeking to identify SNPs related to human facial characteristics for future forensic uses. Finding humans fairly easy to catch and rather too easily domesticated she moved on to the University of New England in Armidale, NSW where she was given the opportunity to chase sheep as part of an Australian Wool Innovation project on integrated parasite management. The fieldwork component of this project was much more to Andrea’s liking, getting her out of the lab and working directly with the end users of the research, i.e. the primary producers. Then it was on to CSU in Wagga, a return home in a lot of ways – Andrea was born in Tumbarumba, less than two hours drive from her Wagga office (as a fellow country NSW kid, I can confirm that anywhere under two hours away is considered just down the road) and is for the first time in her career close to her family roots.
Within the Institute for Land, Water and Society Andrea is working in water research, again enjoying the contact with end users, in this case consumers of tank water. She is also teaching microbiology and forensic based subjects in several courses. In a broad sense, her work is in two strands – ‘wet’ research stemming from her background as a parasitologist; and ‘dry’ research based on her interest in science education. Fittingly, her ‘wet’ research is literally that:
Analysis of independently managed drinking water: Andrea began this project as a pilot study in 2009. In rural communities, particularly on farms, drinking water is often supplied from tanks, installed and maintained by the landholders. Often, these water supplies are maintained at a relatively poor standard compared to municipal water supplies in urban areas. Andrea’s research interests in this area are in relation to both issues of contamination (for instance, 54% of tanks tested had levels of E. coli above those that would be deemed acceptable in water supplied by governments or other central suppliers in Australia) and that of social awareness (what do the consumers know and what are their concerns).
Effective use of technology to support teaching: Andrea describes her focus in this area as a reflective analysis of online teaching environments following the addition of various teaching tools and strategies. She has a strong interest in the application of effective technologies in teaching science, and in analysis of students’ use of resources and academics’ time. The analyses explore the benefits and pitfalls to students, academics and institutions alike. Andrea won the International Teaching with Sakai Innovation Award in 2009, an international award based on the effective use of technology to achieve a sound pedagogical goal. Below is a brief interview with Andrea talking about her work in this area:
If you’re interested, this is a longer video from the Sakai award meeting of Andrea talking about her teaching, her university and using innovative methods in her 200-level forensic science course.
So in simple terms, why does Andrea love doing what she does?
I get to facilitate the development of great educators and program’s and help bring in best practices from the HE sector to CSU. I was first a traditional bench scientist who taught but as a researcher I was drawn to investigate the most effective teaching styles, particularly online and thus became a scholar of learning and teaching. Thus my research moved from molecular parasitologist to learning and teaching including a community aspect around health literacy, ie how the general community integrates health related scientific information. There are days I miss chasing sheep or collecting mosquitoes but I get to work with a great lot of people at my home university as well as across the country.