To mark International Women's Day this year we are celebrating some of the professional and academic staff who make our College a world-leading institution for research and teaching on Asia and the Pacific.
In this piece, we chat to Professor Valerie Braithwaite interdisciplinary social scientist at the School of Regulation and Global Governance (RegNet).
What inspired you to get into your field of research and why?
As a PhD student at the University of Queensland I attended a seminar by Peter Suedfeld on conflicts across the world. His research showed that leaders presided over a loss of cognitive complexity in political debates prior to conflict erupting. I caught sight of how I could take psychological knowledge and apply it on a broader social science canvass.
Who is a woman in your field that you look up to?
Hannah Arendt. She challenged conventional thinking and did not back away from public controversy, particularly when she questioned the popular psychological explanation of “evil” people being at the heart of Nazi atrocities. Her analysis of institutions and how they can obstruct our line of sight between action and consequence and stifle our sense of personal responsibility is as relevant today as it was then.
What is a teaching/research project you are currently working on that motivates you?
I have a project on regulation and social capital that consumes my every waking hour at present. Regulation is often seen as a curse, but really it should create an environment where trust flourishes and productive activity can be unleashed. The goal is to build an evidence base that will encourage politicians, bureaucrats, peak bodies and the public to re-imagine regulation more as an enabler than a disabler.
What are you most proud of?
Pride for me is a collective thing. I am proud of my students, colleagues and family whenever they try to do something that is difficult and come out smiling. Being on campus at graduation time is the best for sharing the pride of parents, families, and new graduates. As an educator pride is vicarious: You feel pride in others as they take their steps along their learning pathway.
What’s your advice to your younger self about choosing the right path and juggling life’s different demands?
I am not sure there is a right path and I have never mastered juggling. I think it’s important to make the most of the path we are on, even if things take an unexpected turn. Collegiality helps in times of doubt, and is important in any workplace, but particularly in academia. Contributing to a collegial culture is time well spent.