Dr Sofia Samper Carro is an outstanding young scholar in her research field, zooarchaeology. She has an enviable record of accomplishment in research and teaching, including a Teaching Enhancement Grant, SELT scores that are consistently among the highest in the School, and publications housed in top quality journals and publishing houses in her discipline.
Sofia's record in research and teaching is equivalent with those far more senior to her. It would be easy enough to interpret her achievements as the result of a relentless pursuit of outcomes, but Sofia's accomplishments are born of a genuine and enduring enthusiasm and passion for her research and for her students.
Sofia is always striving to create new research, teaching networks and opportunities. She is often engaging her colleagues in her work, rehearsing new and innovative teaching ideas, such as a mock workshop, with colleagues both within and beyond her School, and creating workshops.
She is held in great admiration and esteem by her disciplinary and interdisciplinary colleagues who have reaped the benefits of both the media attention her work has attracted and from her remarkable skill as a teacher.
She treats her students as budding researchers and they respond as apprentices to a caring, nurturing and highly skilled master. Sofia really knows how to operate research led teaching and is a shining example of best practice in the School.
Sofia does not seek out the spotlight; she simply approaches everything she does with passion, and with the intention of producing the best possible results. If anyone ever deserved to be recognised for a career, early as it is, distinguished by excellence in every aspect it is certainly Sofia.
Prior to receiving her award at the Vice-Chancellor's Awards, Sofia was asked to respond to a series of questions. Her responses are below.
Q: Congratulations on being nominated a finalist for the 2019 Vice-Chancellor's Annual Awards. Can you briefly tell us what this honour means to you?
A: It is such an honour to be one of the finalist for the Early Career Academic Award. I guess it is like the Oscars of Education! I love teaching, even though sometimes it may be challenging and frustrating, and I am very passionate about my research field, zooarchaeology. Being recognised in both aspects by my colleagues makes me grateful while encouraging me to keep working hard in education and research to teach the next generations to love this career as much as I do!
Q: Tell us a little about the behind-the-scenes work involved in the project you worked on. What was a challenging aspect of the work? How did you overcome this?
A: Regarding teaching, preparing the lectures and re-designing the courses I convene involved a lot of reading, and trying to find innovative ways to engage students and make the course a joyful experience. I want them to be critical thinkers and to that end, I attempt to promote discussions and ask for their opinion about the different aspects I introduce in my lectures. This implies a lot of preparation and rehearsal.
Regarding research, and especially combining teaching with research and with a young family (I have 20-month-old twins), involved a lot of late nights of work and writing papers, which can be challenging when you also want to enjoy raising your kids. It has been tough at times, but mostly rewarding. It has turned me into an organised person; I even have an agenda now!
Q: Where is your favourite place on campus?
A: I think they have done a great job with the new Kambri Precinct. However, I have to say that my favourite spot is the garden of Fellows Bar at University House. I recall great times catching up with friends and listening to music there years ago, and now I love that my kids can run around while I'm enjoying some relaxing times with my colleagues. I also find the University Avenue grassed area is amazing; I love all of the green spaces that we have on campus.
Q: Why Canberra? Why ANU?
A: I moved here to complete my second PhD in 2014. I was finishing my PhD in Spain but the future was not very bright there, so I was lucky enough to be granted a PhD scholarship under Professor Sue O'Connor Laureate. In 2016, I accepted a position in CASS as a lecturer. A year before that, I met my now husband in a local pub and now we have our amazing twins. Moving to Canberra was a bit of a risky decision and it implied leaving behind my family and friends, but I am convinced that it was the best decision I have ever made.
I come from a mega city (Madrid) and lived in Barcelona for many years, but I felt in love with Canberra in less than a week. I love the tranquillity and open spaces in the North side of town where I currently live. Everything is quite close and traffic such a bliss compared to where I come from. Being able to ride to work is such a luxury!
ANU is such a vibrant academic and research space. I had the pleasure to meet and collaborate with wonderful colleagues and be involved in exciting projects. It seems like every time you talk to someone new or meet a new colleague, you learn a new skill or a new way of approach your research.
Q: Can you tell us a little about why you are so passionate about what you do?
A: I loved archaeology since I was a kid. My mum always said that archaeology would never take me anywhere, but it took me to the other side of the world, so I guess she was not right! I find it amazing to be able to learn so much about human behaviour from just a bunch of bones and other remains you find in archaeological sites.
My special passion is Neanderthals, I think they were fascinating hominids that have suffered quite a bit of 'bad press' being compared with H. Sapiens, just to make us more special and 'the top of the evolution ladder'. My current research is trying to refute some of these topics and trying to unveil how capable they were of doing incredible things and how similar to us they were in their lifestyle.
Q: Is there anyone you would like to recognise for helping you become a finalist for the 2019 Vice-Chancellor's Annual Awards?
A: I would like to acknowledge the help I got from Professor O'Connor to complete my PhD and to continue my research in the Indo-Pacific. I also want to say a big thank you to my colleagues from the Archaeology and Natural History Department to be so welcoming and encouraging.
I also want to thank my colleagues from the School of Archaeology and Anthropology for their help to shape my teaching style during the first year and for their continuous support and encouragement over the following years. I want to acknowledge Simone Dennis and Phil Piper for their support during the last year, where there have been tough times.
Finally, this would not have been possible without my family, Spanish friends, Aussie friends and of course, my supporting and loving husband and my amazing boys.