PhD student John Ryan
Faculty of Education and Arts
An American Discovering South West Australia's Biodiversity
I had never heard of Perth, WA before September 2007 when I starting looking for external interdisciplinary PhD courses in the humanities. In New Jersey, USA, we have a city named Perth Amboy, in the industrial northern armpit of the state, but Western Australia was a complete unknown to me.
I had the idea that I would work on a PhD from the comfort of my snowy North American abode and never have to visit a 'brick and mortar' institution. Having worked in the non-profit environmental sector for ten years, I was looking for a change from a life in businesses, universities, companies, and other organizations. The thought opened me up to the possibility of studying anywhere, and of not being bound by matters of attending anything or showing up physically. I was looking for something 'virtual' or external, but my contact at ECU, who would later be my supervisor, let me know from the start that the only option would be to transport my body to the other side of the planet. Having travelled extensively in my twenties, I wasn't really looking to go abroad, but the opportunity seemed better and better, especially when the ECU-IPRS scholarship rolled in. So I took a leap of faith and flung myself over the Pacific Ocean, boarded the Indian Pacific train at Adelaide and arrived in WA last year.
I'm a plant person by nature. That is, I spend the majority of my hours thinking or reading about or seeking out green beings. In the US, I was very involved in medicinal plant conservation and the creation of herbal medicine clinics, but my deeper interest lies in the place where cultural and botanical knowledge intersect. So I was surprised to find out that the South West region of Western Australia is one of the most biodiverse regions on Earth. But that comes at no surprise, as I tend to believe that plants forge the way in all regards. My research at ECU is coming together as a history of ideas about plants of the South West corner of Australia. The project is multidisciplinary, drawing from philosophical aesthetics, landscape poetry, and botanical science. The experience so far has been highly independent - the way I like it! but there has been at the same time insightful and consistent support from ECU faculty. It's very encouraging to know that one can fling himself across the Earth to find such great environments, of all kinds. The interdisciplinary focus of my PhD studies extends collaborations between the arts and sciences formed in my undergraduate studies, professional work, and personal projects of the past ten years. Working with visionary people who offer different perspectives keeps me inspired and highly motivated. I've found ECU a receptive setting for forging new ways of understanding the natural world.