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Dawn Bazely: From biology to sustainability

Published February 26, 2014

by hdrdla

The following is an excerpt from University Affair's article, Meet 5 academics who have switched disciplines mid-career, published February 12, 2014 by Daniel Drolet.

Dawn Bazely: From biology to sustainability

Director, Institute for Research and Innovation in Sustainability 
York University

With degrees in botany and zoology, Dawn Bazely was content working in her field as a biology professor with a specialty in ecology, particularly forest and grassland ecology. But when she was recruited in 2006 as director of York University’s Institute for Research and Innovation in Sustainability (known as IRIS), she encountered a whole new discipline – and a steep learning curve.

“I have learned to feel uncomfortable,” says Dr. Bazely. “But I get to be a student every day. How awesome is that?” She says that the chief editor of Ecological Monographs tells her “that I have done a de facto PhD in sustainability, science policy and environmental security.”

IRIS has a tradition of breaking down barriers: Its first director was a political science professor, its second came from York’s Schulich School of Business. When the position opened up again, Dr. Bazely was asked to apply. “At first I was terrified,” she confides.

“I can’t begin to tell you how different it is from what I did as an ecologist. It’s publishing in completely different journals, it’s science policy. The most important thing I have learned is that social scientists generally believe that researchers in science and engineering don’t understand the history of our own field.”

She also has learned that scientists don’t understand how they damage their own credibility because they insist on being “super-neutral” and not speaking up about policy or political issues. (The most popular research seminar she gives in science faculties is on “Why don’t scientists get more respect?”)

With her new insights, Dr. Bazely now believes this is because scientists fool themselves in thinking science is above the fray. “Being in sustainability has exposed me to the humanities and social sciences and ethics. It has caused me to question my own assumptions.”

She now understands that there are different kinds of knowledge, “and sometimes academic knowledge might take primacy and sometimes it will not. It’s situating that knowledge in the broader human landscape.”

Taking positions on topics of the day is something she is now comfortable doing. “I don’t think doing that damages my standing as a scientist.”

Posted in: IRIS News | News | Sustainability News