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Mentors share skills with aspiring young scientists

Andrew Crawford collecting Triglochin sp. A Flora of Australia (Photo: DPaW)
Andrew Crawford collecting Triglochin sp. A Flora of Australia (G.J. Keighery 2477) (Photo: DPaW)
Lechenaultia longiloba (Photo: Andrew Crawford, DPaW)
Lechenaultia longiloba (Photo: Andrew Crawford, DPaW)

Andrew Crawford is a research scientist at the Department of Parks and Wildlife, Threatened Flora Seed Centre, Western Australia

Why did you choose a career in environmental science? Who or what inspired you to make the choice?
An early experience that sowed my interest in native plants was a visit to my family’s bush property in the Perth Hills by the American scientist, Professor Warren Stoutamire. Professor Stoutamire had an interest in orchid pollination and convinced me to keep an eye on the donkey orchids growing on our property to see if I could find out what pollinated them.

Although quite young, I spent many hours sitting near a patch of the orchids watching and waiting to see if I could spot and trap the unknown pollinator. In the end, I didn’t have any success, but Professor Stoutamire thanked me for my efforts and this experience led me to take a greater interest in the plants growing around me.

A second experience, which led to my interest in seeds, was taking a summer job with a native seed collecting company while at university. This job not only gave me experience with seeds, but also increased my interest in native plants. This gave me good practical experience with collecting and handling seeds and the problems that can be faced along the way.

What is the best thing about having a career as a plant researcher? What is it about the field that inspires you to achieve your goals?
The work enables me to spend a lot of time outdoors and in the bush, which I really enjoy. It is rewarding to be doing work that conserves threatened plant species.

Did your someone inspire you to follow a career in science?
Professor Stoutamire and also Professor Julie Plummer who I had as a supervisor for my Honours and PhD studies and for whom I worked for a number of years and finally Associate Professor Kathryn Steadman with whom I worked for a number of years and who was then my PhD supervisor.

Do you believe that students with an interest in science could be encouraged by having a mentor?
I think a mentoring program could be very useful in developing an interest in science. I know when I was studying at university I gained more from on-the-job experience, applying what I had learnt, than I felt I did from the actual studies themselves.

How do you relax after work? What is your favourite hobby, sport or pastime?
I enjoy getting into the outdoors doing activities such as bushwalking, rogaining, mountain biking and canoeing.

What is your favourite plant or animal?
One of my favourite plants would have to be Lechenaultia longiloba, a Western Australian shrub, because not only does it have very striking flowers, which can be red, green, yellow or pink, but I have discovered a couple of populations of this species that hadn’t been seen for many years.