A quick Q&A with Dr Natalie OsbornePosted: October 5, 2016
Lecturer in the Griffith School of Environment, Dr Natalie Osborne discusses her career, participatory action research and saving the world.
1. What did you want to be when you were growing up?
I always wanted to be a writer – I loved reading, and spent most of my childhood hiding in little nooks reading books. I was pragmatic (cynical?) though, and thought I’d need a day job too. Turns out I’m a much better academic writer than I am a novelist or poet!
2. Tell about a previous job (work experience/volunteer work) that you’ve had.
As unbelievable as it is to anyone who knows me, I taught dance classes for a while. After I graduated high school and didn’t quite know what to do next, I worked as an administrator in a real estate office by day, and in a dance school by night.
3. Which 3 apps do you use the most on your mobile device?
Twitter, Facebook and Podcasts.
Twitter is a key way I keep up with new developments in my field. It’s how I follow current events and activist campaigns, and how I network with colleagues. Bit of self-promotion thrown in there too!
I do a bit of activism and have recently gotten involved in a participatory action research project with a group of Brisbane activists on Lefebvre’s idea of The Right to the City. Facebook is a key organising tool for us; we use it to plan meetings, share draft work, get help and support, organise volunteers, and promote events using pretty dubious Beastie Boys and David Harvey memes.
I also spend a fair bit of time on public transport commuting between Brisbane and the Gold Coast, so the ‘podcasts’ app on my phone gets a lot of use. I love ‘Welcome to Nightvale’ and ‘Stuff you Missed in History Class’.
4. Which 5 celebrities would you invite to your ultimate dinner party?
Tough question for the socially anxious – I’d go with Margaret Atwood, David Harvey, Aileen Moreton-Robinson, Mehreen Faruqi, and John Oliver. I’d hope that my hosting duties would prevent me from having to speak to any of them, though, because I would feel utterly intimidated!
5. Tell us about your favourite fictional character.
I could try and be highbrow here, but if I’m completely honest I’m going to go with the character whose picture I have on my office wall: Leslie Knope, from Parks and Recreation. She is an incredibly hard-working and energetic idealist, fiercely intelligent and kind, and she makes things happen.
6. What’s the best thing about your current role?
The best thing is the people I’m working with. My colleagues, my students, participants in research projects – every day I am surrounded by smart, passionate, dedicated people. They are working to make the world better, they give me hope. It’s a tremendous privilege to be in their company.
7. What sparked your interest in environmental planning?
I want to save the world, of course! I’ve always been passionate about social justice and the environment (I trace it back to watching Captain Planet a lot as a kid) – environmental planning seemed to offer me a way to link these two ideals.
8. Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
I’ll be just edging out of the ‘early career researcher’ category so I hope by that point I’ve contributed some valuable work on social justice in cities to the national audience, and perhaps I’ll be starting to make an impact internationally.
I hope I’ll have stronger, deeper ties to grassroots organisations, and that I’ve had a hand in researching, planning, implementing, and reporting on some exciting radical planning interventions with activist partners that are making cities better, more just, and more sustainable from the bottom up.
9. What’s been the highlight of your career so far?
Getting a tenure-track job! I did not think that was going to happen. That aside – I guess being invited to do research with some pretty inspiring activists and community organisers. It meant a lot that they found me trustworthy and that they wanted to work with me.
10. Tell us about your current research.
My most recent endeavour is called ‘Grassroots in the Gabba’ – it’s participatory action research, working with Gabba Ward organisers and activists involved in the Right to the City – Brisbane group.
The research is focused on experiments in participatory democracy, grassroots urban politics, and radical/insurgent planning practice for a more just, sustainable city. It’s early days yet, but really exciting. The first paper will be based on a tactical urbanism event called ‘Break the Boundary’ that was run in August, and I’ll be co-writing it with one of the activists involved.
11.What wise advice do you have for new researchers?
The research environment in Australia is increasingly marked by hyper-competitive funding rounds and short contracts, and the recent emphasis on impact can too easily become corrupted into hype. This environment is not conducive to critical thinking or high-quality research. When we’re focused on making ourselves ‘competitive’ we make it impossible to imagine a better way to do things.
So, my advice for new researchers is to work cooperatively and collaboratively. Work horizontally, and reach out to the people in even less secure situations than yourself. Work on what you have a passionate and ethical commitment to, not what will churn out the publications. Protect your research from corrupting influences, and build a base of support and kindness that will allow you to speak truth to power as necessary.
12. What’s the best resource you’ve discovered in your Griffith University Library?
I don’t think I can pick one – the Learning Advisers are an amazing resource who provide invaluable support and input into my teaching practice. I don’t think I would’ve gotten through my PhD without inter-library loans and Bonus. The referencing tool is a lifesaver.
And although the online resources are great, when my inspiration is flagging I like to visit the library itself. Whether it’s for a change of scenery, to get some advice from one of the excellent librarians, or to wander the stacks and smell the books. To draw from Rupert Giles (famous fictional librarian), sometimes “the getting of knowledge should be tangible – it should be smelly”.
13. Can you give us your 3 best research tips?
- Read a lot – never stop reading. In the measured university, reading is sometimes construed as a waste of time, but reading is how you tune, maintain, and improve your most important research instrument. Read often – and openly!
- Be open to working with people who might be a bit outside the ‘norm’ in your discipline. For me, that often means working with people outside of academia – people at the grassroots. For you, that might mean working with someone in a different branch of science, or who uses different methodologies, or whatever. Great things happen at the margins – they’re the frontiers!
- Keep a research/field notes journal. In my line of research, field notes are a source of data, but I think journaling is valuable in any project. It’s very easy to forget the little mistakes, changes, and decisions we make throughout the conduct of research, but these are important for reflection and reporting. I also find research journaling valuable for collecting emerging questions and ideas, and tracking how my thinking and analysis develops over the life of a project.