It’s Science Week that’s 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 continuous improvement for safe and fair sport within Australia, but also contributes to global efforts to keep sport free of doping Because we get closer to it. A clean and fair playing field for all.
As part of our Science Week celebrations we are highlighting the new Assistant Director of Science Gemma Payne, a skilled forensic scientist.
We talk to Gemma about how she got into science, her career so far and what she hopes to achieve while with Sport Integrity Australia.
What did you find 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 am still a sad fan of the show, fully embracing the geekness. I also got the chance to attend the Zoom Meet in 2020 and be greeted with Gillian Anderson where I thanked her for inspiring me through such an incredible character, which 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 out to see how a heart worked. I was hanged! Fearing my parents I proudly arrived home with a bag full of dissected cow hearts, so it probably didn’t shock my family that I ended up as a forensic scientist.
Tell us about your science career so far?
I knew I wanted to study science but never had anything in common, so I studied forensic chemistry at university and continued my studies after completing my Honors, Australian Federal Police (AFP) PhD based in forensic laboratories, which is where I eventually got. AFP Job as Forensic Chemist. Soon after I joined there was a second bombing in Bali, in which I assisted back in Canberra.
I continued to work for AFP for 17 years in various roles in forensics and it has been fascinating to watch forensics grow during this time. Evidence types that did not exist when I joined are now routine.
My journey has been very generous. I have analyzed gunshot remains in murder 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 domestically and internationally in the laboratory and in the field.
I have now found myself as an assistant director of the science team at Sport Integrity Australia. My team (and everyone else I’ve met) is amazing and has been so welcoming, I feel so lucky that my path has led me here.
What has been a career highlight for you so far?
A stand out is my participation in disaster victim identification for the 2009 bushfires. The bushfires were a tragedy, but in these moments I could see for the first time how meaningful our work as forensic scientists could be. The community affected was very appreciative and there was an amazing team spirit with the people who were deployed to us that lasted well 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 have developed throughout my career at AFP to a different organization. I also liked the idea of a more positive spin on my work and a greater emphasis on prevention. In the context of the police a major operation is often a horrific event, such as a bombing. But a big event in Sport Integrity Australia is the Olympics!
What do you hope to achieve while living here?
I hope that I can use my past experiences and perspective to contribute to the objectives of my team and the wider organization. I worked on five different forensic teams at AFP, each providing me with experiences that carried over to my next role. I have found that in my new role here at Sport Integrity Australia, I am drawing on all these collective experiences on a daily basis.
Where do you see your career taking you?
At the end of the day I am inspired by interesting experiences and want to make a difference. There is no way I could have predicted what my career would be like when I went to my first grade in 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 while, but along the way science is one of the driving forces in anti-doping operations, working closely with other teams like Investigation and Intelligence.
Has a career in science turned out to be the way you expected?
I took one of those career prediction surveys when I was in school. My numerology shows equal interest in science and arts. I was told that I would have to choose one because the disciplines were polar 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 have 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 has been fun.