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Professor Susan Rowland smiling

Meet the expert: Exploring science with Susan Rowland

UQ people
Published 8 Oct, 2020  ·  3 minute read

For UQ biochemist Professor Susan Rowland, working with data is a dream.

There are good dreams, bad dreams and daydreams, but for Professor Rowland, nothing beats data dreams.

The biochemist and science education specialist recalls waking up night after night during one research project that involved bacterial protein experiments using nuclear magnetic resonance.

“It looked like Tetris, this data we’d get, and I’d be there asleep with these pieces of protein moving around in my field of view while I was dreaming,” she says.

“It was all-encompassing. To find out something new is one of the most exciting things in the world.”

Professor Rowland teaches biochemistry and introductory cell biology at the School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences (SCMB), drawing on her years of work in both Australia and the United States in such areas as bacterial cell division and protein signal sensing.

She wants students starting their science careers at UQ to be excited to take a leap into the great unknown.

“Science is beautiful, biochemistry is beautiful,” she says. “If students come away with a sense of wonder about the intricacies of life, I’m happy.”

Professor Rowland is also the Deputy Associate Dean Academic for the Faculty of Science, a role that focuses on teaching, research and innovation in science education. This part of her career began in 2006 when she and her husband, a fellow academic, returned from the US with their two young children, and Professor Rowland took up teaching and researching at UQ.

She completed a Graduate Certificate in Higher Education in 2007 and was appointed as a full-time teaching-focused faculty member in SCMB two years later, bringing full circle a passion sparked by her own science teacher father.

“My hero that I grew up with was my Dad, because he was happy for me to ask any question I wanted,” she recalls.

Professor Rowland says if her father didn’t know the answer, they would read and research together, sometimes even performing small experiments on their farm in an effort to get that all-important data.

“That sense that there was nothing off limits in terms of wondering about knowledge, that was just wonderful... it made me who I am, I think.”

Professor Rowland and her research team are a key part of UQ’s strategy to offer students that same sense of exploration from the get-go, focusing on best practice undergraduate research experiences. This sees students design and implement experiments that are part of a real research stream from a working lab, gaining real-time and real-world insight.

“There’s not a lot of spoon-feeding here, there’s not a lot of hand-holding, and there are a lot of challenges,” Professor Rowland says of the UQ philosophy.

“What we’re trying to do is produce students and graduates who own their learning, think for themselves, and solve problems. That’s something really, really powerful and it’s something employers look for.”

Professor Rowland says the UQ approach contributes to students doing away with the idea that they should try to deal with the world’s ‘wicked problems' alone.

“Research funding is tight, and the problems that we have in the world affect everybody,” she says.

“As a scientist, you can be an expert in one thing, but you need to be able to collaborate with others.”

A keen a cappella singer and recent convert to crochet, Professor Rowland says UQ students can expect to see her other true passions crop up in her teaching.

“We sing in my classes, and I always put pictures of cats and other fluffy animals in my lectures. I think the students find it amusing, although they might just be putting up with me,” she jokes.

“One of the things that makes me happiest is being able to help people achieve growth. Emotional growth and also intellectual growth. That’s why I teach.”

Own the unknown in science at UQ.

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