Are we really already on Episode 6 of the Tuesday Feature? That’s gone so quickly – please let us know what you think of the series so far in the comments below.
Today we talk to the Faculty’s Associate Dean for Social Responsibility, Professor Amanda Bamford. Amanda now focuses on teaching rather than research, so we thought we’d delve into her past to find out how she got to where she is today.
We know you’re focused on teaching nowadays, but could you tell us a little bit about what you used to research?
Well, I used to work on air pollution.
I did my PhD on the effects of air pollution on crops and crop production; plants like barley and crops like that.
Every time you drive your car, you produce nitrogen dioxide. I was looking at the effects of nitrogen dioxide on plants.
Could you tell us how did you first get interested in your research area?
I got to the end of my first degree and I thought to myself ‘I’m really enjoying this. I’m not ready to finish.’ I was just getting the hang of it.
I really, really enjoyed my first degree – probably a bit too much!
So I got to my final year and I kind of thought – ah, I think I need to settle down here and really get something going.
I’ve always been really interested in social responsibility and I used to go on marches for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND). I belonged to the Student Union’s Eco Action. We used to go out looking at plants and fungi.
By my third year I thought, I’m enjoying this life, I’m enjoying the people I’m working with, and I feel as if I’m starting to get to grips with the topic. I wanted to carry on.
Air pollution was something I was interested in because it was the days of acid rain. The 1980s – The Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace. There were lots of campaigns around acid rain. I don’t know if anyone remembers that there used to be these big posters, and every time it rained the poster changed colour because it was made of litmus paper. So it would be saying ‘it’s raining and it’s acid rain coming.’
The huge poster at the side of the road used to change colour – and that’s what got me into air pollution.
Who inspired you? Do you have any science heroes?
No, I don’t. Not really.
When I grew up in Essex, rough Essex right next to the Thames, nobody went to university. You had to look hard to find nature, put it that way. But we did find nature.
There was a local quarry called Gray’s Quarry or Gray’s Pit or something like that. It was an old chalk quarry and if you looked carefully you could see orchids growing in there. At one time there were six different species of orchids; bee orchids, man orchids. And then I found out that they were going to build a shopping centre on it.
My friends and I had a big campaign to try and save the quarry. We failed, but it really inspired me to carry on and try and make a difference. And that’s one of the reasons why I went to university. Which was very unusual from where I lived.
I see my role, leading on from what we’ve just been talking about, as really empowering people to exercise their own social responsibility.
But if everybody in this huge university of ours did only a little bit, got out there and made a difference in any which way; volunteering, going and talking to schools, helping in Platts Field, imagine it.
If everyone only did one hour a year or a day a year, we would have a huge impact.
I see that as the crucial part of my role – supporting and encouraging and making it a part of the ethos of everybody that’s at the University.
Have you always been interested in social responsibility? And how did you first get involved?
The only time I realised that social responsibility is a part of me is when I applied for this role. I had to write out a reason why I wanted to do it. I talked about Gray’s chalk quarry.
When I went to university I did Applied Biology, not just Biology. I didn’t do Zoology or Plant Sciences. I wanted to do something more applied.
So I went to do Applied Biology, and there weren’t many places that did Applied Biology then. The degree I went to do included three placements. So each year there were six months at university and six months working somewhere.
I worked for Kew Gardens and Kew Seed Bank, so that was conservation. Social responsibility. I worked for Shell looking at herbicides for controlling weeds and improving crop production. More social responsibility.
But it wasn’t my reason for doing them – I was just interested in them. It wasn’t as if I was an eco-warrior going around. It was just that those were the sort of topics that interested me.
Then my final placement was a place called Silwood Park, which was a university field station. There, I worked on root disease of potatoes. I really enjoyed that one the most and that’s why I stayed on. I wanted to do more. So from that, I stayed on and did my PhD in air pollution. And from air pollution I did my post-doc in climate change. The effect of climate change on rice production.
I’m sure everybody knows that rice feeds most of the world’s population. It’s a very, very important crop. And at those times in the late 80s global climate change was just coming into the fore. I went to America to do my second post-doc working on rice and climate change.
So even though it wasn’t a deliberate, conscious decision to have that social responsibility as part of my agenda, looking back it was obviously a thread going through my life.
Could you tell us a bit about your interests outside of science and social responsibility?
What else do I get up to?
Well, I used to do fencing! Until last year when I ruptured my Achilles tendon. So I’ve been told I can’t go back to do fencing.
But I’m a bit geeky – I like going birdwatching. Whenever we go on holiday or wherever I go I always visit the nearest botanical gardens. I like walking.
But I don’t really like exercising – you won’t ever get me jogging or running or doing anything like that!
Coming to Manchester has really helped me because it has given me the opportunities that I needed.
I have three children. When I came here it was originally a full time post, but I said I can’t do full time. I had two young children at that time. And they said, well, ‘how many hours do you want?’
So I came back 40%, and then as the children got older I went to 50%, 60%. And it’s only since 2011 that I’ve been full time.
They gave me the flexibility, as a mother, to keep my career going.
And they gave me other opportunities. They sent me on leadership programmes. Manchester has really been good to me and I’m very loyal to Manchester. It’s been a fantastic place to work.
Well that seems as good a place as any to leave it!
Thank you, Amanda – that was another fascinating installment of the Tuesday Feature. Great to hear how someone’s determination led them to a role that seems to fit perfectly with everything they’ve done before. And who knew we all had an eco-warrior in our midst!
Next week we talk to Dr Emma Gowen about her intriguing studies of autism and how her personal circumstances have shaped her career. Come back for that, you won’t want to miss it!