Science Week is like Christmas for the science and medical team at Sport Integrity Australia and we’re in festive mode!
We are extremely fortunate to have a wealth of scientific experience and expertise within our agency that not only contributes to the continuous improvement of safe and fair sport in Australia, but also contributes to the global effort to keep sport free from doping because we are getting closer next to him. A clean and fair field for all.
As part of the Science Week celebrations, we are highlighting the new Assistant Director of Science, Gemma Payne, an experienced forensic scientist.
We talk to Gemma about how she got into science, her career so far and what she hopes to achieve while working at Sport Integrity Australia.
What did you discover in science?
I am a product of the Scully Effect thanks to The X-Files. Gillian Anderson’s character inspired many young women to pursue careers in the field, and I’m still a die-hard fan of the series, fully embracing the geek. I also got the chance to attend the 2020 Zoom Meet and be greeted with Gillian Anderson where I thanked her for inspiring me through such an amazing character who was very special.
Did you always love science as a child or did you become interested in it later in life?
When I was 10 years old, my teacher brought some cow hearts from the butcher and we cut them up to see how a heart works. I was hanged! Fearing my parents, I proudly arrived home with a bag full of cut up cow hearts, so it probably didn’t shock my family that I ended up as a forensic scientist.
Tell us about your scientific career so far?
I knew I wanted to study science but I never really had anything to do with it so I studied forensic chemistry at university and continued my studies after completing my PhD with Honours, Australian Federal Police (AFP) based in Forensic Labs where in I finally got there. AFP Working as a forensic chemist. Soon after I joined there was a second bombing in Bali that I assisted in Canberra.
I went on to work for the AFP for 17 years in various forensic positions and it was fascinating to watch forensics grow during that time. The types of evidence that didn’t exist when I joined are now routine.
My trip was very generous. I analyzed gunshot residue in homicide cases, presented crime scene management training in Kenya and completed a military obstacle course in Kanungara during a leadership program. I was able to apply my scientific knowledge both in the country and abroad in the laboratory and in the field.
I now find myself as the Assistant Director of the Science Team at Sport Integrity Australia. My team (and everyone else I’ve met) are amazing and have been so welcoming, I feel so lucky that my path has led me here.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
My involvement in disaster victim identification for the wildfires of 2009 stands out. The wildfires were a tragedy, but in those moments I could see for the first time how meaningful our work as forensic scientists can be. The affected community was very appreciative and there was an incredible team spirit with the people who were stationed with us that continued long after we returned.
What made you decide to come to Sport Integrity Australia?
I had heard great things about the people and work of Sport Integrity Australia. Sport has always been an important aspect of my life and I was excited to transfer the skills I had developed during my career at the AFP to another organisation. I also liked the idea of a more positive attitude towards my work and a greater emphasis on prevention. In the context of policing, a major operation is often a horrific event, such as a bombing. But a big event at Sport Integrity Australia is the Olympics!
What do you hope to achieve while living here?
I hope that I can use my past experience and perspective to contribute to the goals of my team and the organization as a whole. I worked in five different forensic teams at the AFP, each of which provided me with experience that I carried over into my next role. I find that in my new role here at Sport Integrity Australia I draw on all these collective experiences every day.
Where do you see your career going?
At the end of the day, I’m inspired by interesting experiences and want to make a difference. There is no way I could have predicted what my career path would be when I went into my first year at university, and I try to be open to opportunities as they present themselves. As long as I’m learning new things, innovating and working with great people, I’ll be happy.
Now that I have children, I want my children to participate in safe and fair play. I’ve only been with the agency for a short time, but along the way science has been one of the driving forces in anti-doping operations, working closely with other teams such as investigation and intelligence.
Has a career in science turned out as you expected?
I did one of those career prediction studies when I was in school. My numerology indicates an equal interest in science and the arts. I was told that I would have to choose one because the disciplines are opposites. After all these years I completely disagree with this advice! Science can be artistic and creative. I rely heavily on my creative side, especially for problem solving and engagement. I’ve also seen these aspects of my personality merge into my hobbies, one of which is astrophotography, which I taught myself during the COVID lockdown. Learning how to take pictures of distant nebulae, galaxies, and comets with a simple digital camera in my own backyard was fun.
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