Please tell us a bit about your background.
I grew up in a small town in Tasmania and went to University in the state’s capital city, Hobart. I initially studied Law and Economics, but exchanged Economics for Modern History part way through. I wrote my History dissertation on early 20th century Russian ballet and literature, then started what would become my PhD in Law, which looked at how the law regulates the use of human body parts. In 2002, I took up a post as a Legal Officer at the Australian Law Reform Commission working on their Genetic Information Privacy and Gene Patenting inquiries. While there, I completed a Masters in Bioethics at Monash. It was during this time I became interested in history of medicine and ethics, and enrolled in a DPhil in History of Medicine at Oxford, which prompted my moved here. A full move into history was not to be, as I made another zig zag back into Law, taking up my Fellowship at St Anne’s in 2009. While this seems perhaps (!) a little circuitous, it has all now coalesced into a love of legal issues in the context of medicine, and looking at these with an eye to the ethical dimensions and always set against the historical context. I live in Oxford with my husband and my two children, who are 5 and 8.
What led you to a career in academia?
I think I rather fell into it, having pottered about in various areas until I found what I really loved. This took quite a while because what I do is so inter-disciplinary, but once I discovered bioethics and history of medicine, I really started to see what pulling together different disciplines could bring to scholarship. I love the freedom to pursue my own intellectual interests that a career in academia affords, as well as the regular opportunities to share ideas and work collaboratively. I love writing with other people because I enjoy exploring multiple perspectives on an issue, and this is particularly exciting when those people are from different disciplines.
What are your research interests and why have you chosen those particular areas?
For a while I worked on whether property principles offer the best way for the law to regulate what can be done with human body parts, particular setting our current practices against the background of the historical treatment of bodies, attitudes to dissection and the development of our understanding of anatomy. I’m also very interested in the regulation of IVF, birthing and all aspects of reproduction. My current focus, however, is how we make medical decisions on behalf of young children, particularly how we should navigate disagreements between parents and doctors. I’m especially interested in how the law can help navigate these, and how we, as a community, decide which values should guide the law in the determinations it makes. This opens up all sorts of questions about the law’s role in relation to personal, high-stakes decisions on which there can be differences of opinion in
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m working on an historical study of negligently-induced psychiatric injuries with a colleague from the University of Bristol, Catherine Kelly. We both have backgrounds in history, and it’s a real pleasure to explore these early cases by setting them in their historical context to better understand the thinking behind some of the decisions. A particular focus at the moment is the role gender might have played in how these claims were dealt with, especially in the post-WWI period.
Why did you take on the role of Admissions Coordinator and what do you want to achieve in the role?
I took it on because I felt that while the system was good in some ways, and a huge step forward from the system we had before, that it was time to update it and aim to make it both more efficient, and more able to help us work collectively to select the best and the brightest, while making bold advances in widening participation. I’m quite fascinated by systems and statistics, so I’ve approached it from that perspective, looking at 10 years of data to understand what we’ve been doing, and how we can do it better in the future by really understanding what’s happening in our admissions processes. It’s been hugely interesting, and I’ve managed to speak with almost every member of Faculty at some point, which was a great way to get some insight into how one’s colleagues are thinking about admissions.
What is the best thing about living/working in Oxford?
The best thing about living and working in Oxford is the people. I am constantly meeting people who do inspiring, interesting work, and I hugely enjoy the chance to hear about what they’re doing and share ideas. It’s also a really friendly, welcoming city and I’ve always felt very at home here as a consequence. It’s also a city that’s full of opportunities to do new things. For me, this was rowing, and I’ve always loved being able to cycle a few miles and be on the river as the sun comes up over Christ Church meadow. It’s a magical way to start your day.
Do you have any other accomplishments besides your academic career?
I’m a pretty good baker. I’ve made it to the final round of the auditions for the Great British Bake Off twice and Mary Berry said my scones were “very good”!