Issue 77 Contents
Dr Susan Turner a peripatetic life
& Judy Bracefield scientific helpmate
Susan Turner (1946-)
most recently — Lanzhou University, China
I am a geologist (FGS) of 40 years experience, based as an ‘Honorary‘ (formerly Research Fellow) at the Queensland Museum; from 1995 to 2000 I was one of the few Australian Research Council-awarded Australian Research Fellows. Taking BSc in Geology specialising in Vertebrate Palaeontology at the University of Reading and PhD from the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, I trained in museum work gaining the UK Museums Diploma in 1979 and have worked mainly in museums. Honorary research positions include Monash University Geosciences (also Visiting Lecturer), the Centre for UNESCO at ANU (became defunct under Howard), the Hancock and New Brunswick museums and I have been a DAAD Visiting Professor (University of Hannover 1998-99) and a CNRS Directeur du Recherche Associé (University of Sciences and Technologies, Villeneuve d’Ascq, France 2001).
In research on taxonomy and biostratigraphy of early jawless fish from classic Welsh Borderlands rocks, I used 400-million year old fish remains to date and correlate rocks worldwide, solving geological problems. I was a pioneer in the late 1960s in using such fossils to reconstruct ancient geographies and in scanning electron microscopy on fossils. Current research includes the search for the transition from jawless to jawed cartilaginous fishes (‘sharks’) and the origins over 450 million years ago of ‘hard parts’ (scales, teeth, spines etc.).
I became an Australian resident and joined the Queensland Museum in 1980. From 1981 to 2003 I gained ARGS/ARC grants for research on Palaeozoic vertebrates, and reported to state and national geological surveys on fossil fish from all over Australia. For 27 years I have been mostly on ‘soft money’ and, since Mr Howard and the GST I have been a self-employed Geoscience Consultant, mostly without viable income in this country (fortunately, at least until 2004 with an employed husband). I have worked in other countries, juggling work, contracts and family responsibilities as well as maintaining research output. With the challenge of ‘knowledge industry’ reduction over the last 7 years I re-invented as consultant, writer (most recently on petroleum upstream activities), editor, historian of science (especially on women) and geotourism promoter, all the while trying to maintain an international research profile as a specialist on our earliest fish ancestors. I edit for the Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences (2004-), Czech Geological Survey, and have worked for the Academia Sinica Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology, the Early Life Institute at Xi’an Northwestern University, and Lanzhou University Palaeobotany/climate change group (2008).
Susan Turner with friend
For many years I have participated in UNESCO-International Union of Geological Sciences global research projects and when my son became a little more independent, from 1991-1996 I led one such IGCP project, a research programme with around 200 active scientists on the use of Palaeozoic fish microfossils (also known as ‘ichthyoliths’). This initiated the fish microvertebrate research working group for which I published a newsletter Ichthyolith Issues (ISSN 1032-1314 at www.nla.gov.au). Based on the success of the project, I was elected to the UNESCOIUGS International Geoscience Programme Scientific Board representing Australia from 2000-2004, and to the National IGCP Committee, assessing project proposals. Invited to join the UNESCO Advisory Board for Geoparks (2001-2006), I fostered this new programme for sustainable tourism in geoheritage places, and the first Australian global level Geopark, ‘Kanawinka’, in western Victoria to SE South Australia and became a member of the Australian UNESCO Commission Science Network. UNESCO ‘missions’ have included Geopark assessment in the Persian Gulf and Inner Mongolia, and opening one in north China. Here too there are strong and fascinating women playing an important role in cross-cultural, heritage protection and reconciliation processes (e.g. Turner 2006).
My interest in the history of science began at the Hancock Museum looking at
northeastern geologists and the early history of 3-D models in geology. I have
written on museology and history of vertebrate palaeontology, especially the
role and lot of women geologists (Turner 1985), considering my own and
colleagues’ experiences such as those at the first major international
scientific conference I went to in Estonia (then Soviet Union) in 1976, where
nearly all Soviet delegates were inspirational women. In Australia, I am looking
at the post-WWII geological community and especially the international role of
Australians, and given recent events I am considering how war affects scientists
and science. In 2004 I was elected to the IUGS International Commission on the
History of Geological Sciences (INHIGEO) and was invited to write the official
IGCP history for the 60th anniversary of UNESCO Sciences (Turner 2006).
I have had several assistants over the years, especially since coming to live in Australia. I have employed several during that time including one of the best scanning electron microscopists I have known, Dora Aitken, who maintained the Queensland Museum machine for many years. Dora had taken her B.Sc. at Pietermariansburg University, South Africa, and had done a transmission electron microscopy course. After immigrating to Australia and raising children she wanted to return to work. She sent word around the Biology department at the university and as a result came to work for me in the early 1980s. Because of her training I asked her to take on the SEM work on my vertebrate microfossils. Her work graces many of my publications.
Here I would particularly like also to honour the work of my loyal research assistant, Judy Bracefield. I don’t know for sure how old Judy is as she keeps her birthday very quiet, but perhaps she is a decade younger than me. She grew up in Brisbane of parents of German stock. As a young girl (about 16), Judy went out west to be a governess for small children on a property near Winton, Queensland, which she says, toughened her up considerably. Later in the 60s she went to work in New Zealand, married and had two children.
When I first met Judy she was working for a colleague Dr Anne Kemp (UQ), Queensland lungfish expert, with whom I then shared a museum room, and in 1990 we made a ‘deal‘ to ‘share’ Judy for a few hours a week, me paying her out of my relatively small ARC grant. Anne had trained as a vet to try and gain some income and in the process (I think) met Judy, who had been working for a Brisbane vet for some time.
Judy brought a range of experience to her work and many in the museum consulted with her for free advice on their pets; she also often fostered wild
animals (see picture of me taken by Judy with one of her charges). For me she has tackled all and sundry from acid-preparing rocks and ‘picking’ fossils from the residues, to database entry, to dealing with correspondence and enquiries for reprints, packing parcels, typing and latterly scanning in and converting slides. She was/is indispensable! And enabled me to concentrate on the necessary thinking, drawing, planning, and begging for money that is the modern scientist. She was at her most useful when I had to go overseas in helping me organize and pack, monitoring and looking after mail and responding to reprint requests, and keeping a personal connection by sending chatty emails to keep me abreast of home.
Sadly, we are now going through enforced ‘separation’ as last September Judy got
a full time job at a new UQ facility; she is still loyally doing some typing for
me but essentially I am now on my own. My research effort has slowed
considerably again as I have to do all those jobs for myself that Judy used to
do so well.
What has been learnt
In terms of actual work, a research assistant is essential for any woman scientist (as reiterated in every grant application). My assistants have all been good. Judy Bracefield has stuck with me through the thick and mostly thin of the Howard years; she was/is my scientific ‘wife’ and I could not have done what I have without her. As research funds dry up, now coping with loss of room, of assistance and being too ‘old’ and not a member of an “innovative team” that either saves lives or promotes national security, I face a much reduced possibility to engage in the intellectual world; instead I write and rewrite other people’s papers as a scientific editor to earn a buck. With four years before official retirement I need to make up what I can (from mostly unsalaried years) in superannuation, also feeling guilty that the recent lean years of research funding could not provide for Judy’s retirement.
Elsewhere (Turner 2007), I have examined the lives of women in the history of palaeontology and geology in Australia; pre-1960s most did not marry if they wanted a chance at a scientific career and if they did (as later), had to juggle science with the domestic, looking after husband and raising children usually without help. Based on that and similar knowledge of women colleagues throughout the word, I insist that women scientists need proper funding, dedicated childcare and a scientific wife (but we are still far from that)!
References available on request.
Issue 77 Contents