Dr. Abby Smith is an Associate Professor and Head of the Department of Marine Science at the University of Otago. She Received her B.A. Degree in Geology and Biology from Colby College, her M.S. Degree in Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and her PhD in Earth Science from the University of Waikato. Abby joined us in this interview to share stories from her life and science.
People Behind the Science Podcast Show Notes
Life Outside of Science
Abby is a mother of two, and she keeps busy with family life and taking care of her kids. In her free time, she likes to watch cricket, knit, and cook. In particular, Abby has been experimenting lately with making different fruit jams and preserves.
The Scientific Side
In the lab, Abby is dedicated to studying shells and the animals that make shells. She is interested in how shells are made, what they are made out of, and how fast they grow. Abby also examines how shells break down over time and uses old shells to understand what the water was like in the past.
A Dose of Motivation
“If we knew what it was we were doing, it wouldn’t be called research.” by Albert Einstein
What Got You Hooked on Science?
Abby grew up in Boston and spent her summers on the coast of Maine. As she learned more about the animals and plants on the beaches, Abby began leading her own guided tours to share her knowledge with guests. After high school, Abby worked at the New England Aquarium, and she enjoyed telling visitors stories about the sea life there. This fascination with ocean life has stayed with Abby throughout her career.
The Low Points: Failures and Challenges
The workload of an academic scientist is a challenge. It seems like there is constantly more and more to do, and expectations are constantly on the rise. This was particularly challenging when Abby was raising her children, and she knew that female graduate students in the program were looking to her as a role model. There were times where she just had to accept that sometimes things weren’t going to be perfect.
A Shining Success!
Abby has worked in her department for over 20 years, and it was really wonderful when her colleagues in the department unanimously selected her as their department leader. It was great to know that they respected her and her work. In particular, Abby was pleased to know that the dean wanted to appoint her to the position because she had excellent work/life balance.
Murder Must Advertise by Dorothy L. Sayers, The Little Women Letters by Gabrielle Donnelly
Most Treasured Travel
One place that Abby will never forget is Sicily. She traveled there for a meeting of the International Bryozoology Association and was delighted to enjoy the phenomenal food and sunshine with her colleagues. Her sisters also visited her the week before the conference, and they enjoyed sampling the fresh foods of Sicily together as they explored the city.
Quirky Traditions and Funny Memories
When Abby went on sabbatical to a friend’s laboratory in the United States, she was surprised to discover how different their work styles were. In New Zealand, they are very particular about tea breaks. Every day part-way through the morning and part-way through the afternoon, everyone at Abby’s University stops for a short tea break in the tea room. These are scheduled breaks in their contracts, and it was a stark change not to have them while she was away.
Advice For Us All
If you plan ahead and stay organized, you can get an enormous amount done, even more than you may think you are capable of. There is no reason to work nights and weekends if you are really organized.
Abby Smith is a marine geo-bio-chemist; she studies shells. At work she is also the Director of the Ocean Acidification Research Theme at Otago University, and Head of the Marine Science Department. After hours, she is married and a mother of two boys, a keen cricket fan, knitter, baker, and singer.
*This episode was originally published on June 12, 2015.