New blog: ‘Richard on Research’

27 March 2014

The first of a series of articles by Professor Richard Baker, Pro-Vice Chancellor (Student Experience).

I am a proud product of ANU. Each of my four first year courses (we did year-long ones then) greatly influenced me and had active researchers sharing with me ideas from their research.

My English course taught me a lot about the power of literature to capture different ways of seeing the world. My Geology course gave me some powerful insights into the scientific method and tools to understand the landscape around me. I was also incredibly lucky to enrol in Archaeology and Geography, two courses that completed each other perfectly.

The Archaeology course included lectures from Professor John Mulvaney who spectacularly highlighted the rapidly evolving discipline of archaeology by coming to class with artefacts he had dug up the previous week at excavations. The research he and others were doing in the Willandra Lake area of western NSW was in the process of radically changing our understandings of how long humans have lived in Australia.

My Geography course aimed at building up an integrated understanding the Australian landscape for the last 40,000-50,000 years. Co-taught by a geomorphologist, a biogeographer and a meteorologist it achieved its aims brilliantly by combining insights from the above three listed sub disciplines of geography to give us an integrated understanding of a continent over the time period of Australia’s human history.  The course hence provided the perfect complement to my archaeology studies.   Moreover as part of the Geography course we had a wonderful two week field trip to the Willandra Lakes area and visited the sites where Mulvaney and others were working.   Truly inspiring field teaching showed us the complexity of knowledge production as opposing theories and interpretations of findings were explained to us.

Given my experience as an ANU undergraduate it is no surprise then that I am a great fan of interdisciplinary teaching.  Students interested in exploring some great interdisciplinary courses at ANU should consider applying for a place in one of the Vice-Chancellor’s Courses. These focus on issues such as Creating Knowledge, Unravelling Complexity and Leadership & Influence.