Alex Russell’s Story
- What is your personal (inside) story?
I’m one of those people who never really knew what I wanted to do. It wasn’t until about halfway through my undergrad that I decided to focus on Psychology – I’m still not entirely sure why.
After fourth year, I realised that I could do a PhD, which was something I’d never considered, especially since my parents and grandparents had never had university degrees. I figured that if I was going to do a PhD, I’d better do something I liked, so I ended up studying wine. People are terrible at describing smells and flavours in general, but wine experts learn to describe wines in consistent ways. So I wanted to find out if I could train wine novices (first year students) to describe wines consistently. Some training techniques worked a bit, others not at all. Other PhD students struggled to get participants for their experiments, but I had participants queueing outside my lab to take part in my wine tasting experiments. Bob Boakes was a wonderful PhD supervisor.
When I was doing my PhD, I taught a lot of statistics and research methods courses. Margaret Charles, who ran the stats courses, gave me lots of opportunities to develop my teaching skills. I ended up taking lectures, and even course coordinating at times. (If you’d told me when I was a second year undergrad that that’s what I’d end up doing, I’d never have believed you.)
Because of my stats experience, a Professor asked for some help with analyses for a gambling project. This led to another project, and another, then a part-time position, then full-time, and now a 3-year Postdoc with the Experimental Gambling Research Laboratory (EGRL) at CQUniversity. I kind of just fell into gambling research.
Most of my studies were done part-time, so I’m now an ECR who is approaching 40 (how did that happen?). Looking back, though, the experience that I gained outside of my studies during that time has been invaluable.
Changing research areas, from wine perception to gambling, has been challenging. I think many of us experience that “imposter syndrome” thing as ECRs, but it has been particularly challenging for me starting in a new area. I’m finally starting to get my head around gambling studies, though, and am enjoying it.
I’m interested in various topics within gambling, and perhaps haven’t quite carved out a niche for myself yet. In general, though, my interest is in bringing novel methodologies to gambling research. Because the gambling environment keeps changing (new products, new technologies, etc), I think it’s important to stay fairly broad in my research interests, rather than specialising in something that may disappear.
I haven’t completely dropped taste and smell research. I still teach lectures on how taste and smell work, and how we can test them, to food science students, and have a couple of active projects there too. And whenever someone hears I did wine perception for my PhD, no one seems to be interested in talking about gambling anymore!
Outside of work, my wife (Steph) and I have two young sons: the cheeky Tommy (3 ½) and the adorable Max (approaching 2). Balancing family with work has been challenging at times, but we’re getting used to it.
2. What are you passionate about?
I do really like my work. The team in the EGRL are incredibly supportive, great to work with, and just generally lovely people. My colleagues are brilliant, as are our research students, and the CQU community in general is very supportive too. It’s a great place to work.
I’m also passionate about passing on my knowledge to others. I enjoy sharing what I’ve learned, and trying to help those around me with their work whenever and however I can.
But my biggest passions are outside of work. My family is, of course, the thing that I’m most passionate about. I love watching our boys grow and learn. This has led to another passion in photography, because I want to capture lots of great memories for my kids to look back on. I’m certainly not a professional, more of an (overly-enthusiastic) amateur, but it’s really grabbed me.
I love sport, and play cricket on Saturdays with friends. Again, I’m an enthusiastic amateur rather than professional. I really enjoy wicketkeeping. My wife complains that it takes up most of the day, so I do try to make it up to her on other days!
3. What has been your greatest achievement to date?
Creating a wonderful family with my wife, of course! But you saw that coming by now, right?
At work, my main achievement hasn’t been any one single thing. It’s been the slow realisation that I don’t feel like an imposter anymore. This is built on my grant and paper success. I now realise that I have some good ideas (although could be better at selling them sometimes). I see that my work is valued, and that I can lead big projects. But I also realise that development is constant. It’s important to keep learning, to keep thirsting for information.
I just got home from a national gambling conference, which was a huge success for our research group, and also for me personally. I gave two presentations, both on work that I led, and I barely got to sit down after the talks, as loads of people came to talk to me and to develop future collaborations. As a stats person, I tend to be coinvestigator on a lot of work led by others, which has its own benefits, but because I’d led these projects, it was satisfying to see so much interest from others.
4. What is your long-term goal? Your preferred future?
I’d like to continue to do good work with a strong team. I’d like to take a leading role in projects and in mentoring Honours and PhD students, as well as ECRs, into becoming the leaders of tomorrow. And I’d love to share my success with my happy, healthy family.