Jenny Edwards Interview: Selected Quotes

This page includes a number of quotes from the Jenny Edwards interview. The interview overview page provides access to some background information, the audio from the interview, a transcript of the interview, and a video snippet.


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A long line of scholars

[B]oth sides of my family have degrees from a very long way back. Most of my forebears are doctors. David Livingstone was my great-great uncle and there were also quite a lot of missionaries and churchmen in there as well. And I think I am about a sixth-generation graduate from the University of Sydney, so that given that it only started in about 1850 that tells you something.

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THIS is why I'm going to university!

It was just absolutely taken for granted in my family that you would go to university. I mean, it was never a question. Although I didn't feel any pressure, I mean, I wanted to. I could see that you needed to go to university to get an interesting job. I had a holiday job at one point and I started after an exam in the morning. And I was sitting there thinking, "Gosh, it must be time for afternoon tea!" I looked at my watch and it was only 2 o'clock and I thought, "This is why I am going to university!"

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A significant piece of graffiti

When I was about 8, in my primary school desk, there was a piece of graffiti, which was extremely unusual at my school. And it said, "e to the i pi equals minus one." Now, I knew what pi was, but I didn't know what e was, and I didn't know what i was, and I didn't see how anything that had pi in it could turn up to equal minus one. So at that stage I thought, "Well, I have to find out why e to the i pi equals minus one!" It never occurred to me that maybe it didn't, but I thought, "I want to find this out." So I suppose that encouraged me a little bit in maths.

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Tough time balancing teaching and research

Yes, I did [enjoy research]. But I also really enjoyed teaching. And like many people who enjoy both, I often had a tough time balancing. One of the problems with research, as everybody knows, is that -- I'm not the sort of person who can just pick it up and put it down. I need concentrated time. And I often found that between teaching and small children, it was hard to find concentrated time. So it tended to get done in bursts. So I'd get a lot done when I was on sabbaticals, and not so much done in between, and things like that.

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Without whom the research never would have been finished

A friend of mine wrote in the introduction to his thesis, "With thanks to Professor A., without whom this research would never have been started. And thanks to Professor B., without whom this research would never have been finished." And quite often I'm Professor B. I'm very good at helping people with theses. I'm very good at getting them to order them logically, at being a devil's advocate -- you know, every time they make a statement, I'll say, "Why? How? When? Justify." So in quite a few cases I've actually had theses where people have come to me fairly late, and I've been asked to pick up the pieces. Where my actual technical knowledge was not so important, but my ability to turn their research into something resembling a logical thesis, where one could see a beginning and an end and a progression of ideas, is quite good.

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Female vs. male approach to promotion

One of the things -- my university has done quite a lot of work on women's promotions. And the findings are that when they go, the women tend to be more successful than the men, but the women often wait longer before applying for a particular promotion. So, I did wait in some periods probably longer than a male might have done, but then, on the other hand, I was successful when I was promoted. And in many ways promotion didn't matter all that much to me. I was actually pushed into applying for quite a few, which is also typical. The women often actually wait till they are pushed into applying for promotion, whereas the guys apply the minute they meet the rules.

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Combining an academic job and family

I didn't do very much research when the kids were little at all. But an academic job is quite a good job to combine with family. I mean, I always got to their sports days and, you know, their school plays and all that sort of thing. Because I could always duck out for an hour or two and go to those sorts of things, which I thought was quite good. And I've had other advantages, I suppose. The kids got to travel a lot, because I'd often take them to conferences and when I went on sabbaticals. So, what they missed by my being at work, I suppose, they got advantages in other ways.

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Often the first female anything

I do find that being a woman in computing, a lot of people look up to me, which I sometimes find a bit scary, particularly at conferences like this where I have all sorts of younger people coming up to me and making comments, "It's great to see a female president of CORE." Needless to say, I'm the first female president. And I'm often the first female anything, which has never really worried me and I've never really thought about it. I mean, I don't consciously think, "I'm going out and doing this for women." I just get on with doing, really, what I enjoy doing. And if good things come out of it, well fine.

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Have the courage of your convictions

I can only say to people: Have the courage of your convictions. If that's what you want to do, just do it. Ignore what other people say. Find someone who you can be friends with, who you can sound off to about, or who you can work with. Just ignore other people. Let it wash over you. If you want to do something, just go ahead and do it. That's about really all I can think of. And generally the women are better than the blokes. Certainly, at our university, if you look at all the averages and things like that, they tend to do better academically. They tend to have a lower attrition rate, they get better jobs. Part of this, of course, is because they take things such as communication seriously. And just go for it.