From treats to treating infrastructure problems: Meet Sara Bice

29 May 2020

Crawford School introduces our fantastic staff, so you can meet the people of Asia and the Pacific’s leading graduate policy school.

This time around, Associate Professor Sara Bice talks about the role infrastructure can play in Australia’s economic recovery from the coronavirus, and tells why you should give yourself a high-five more often.

What do you enjoy most about working here?

The people. Folks at Crawford are seriously the best. And that includes our students. Maybe it’s a shared sense of purpose that Crawford seems to cultivate or an atmosphere of people genuinely committed to making a difference in their area of work. Somehow, Crawford seems to attract genuinely individual, interesting, and personable people. My research is all about collaboration and engagement and it’s wonderful to work in an environment that reflects those values.

Can you tell us a bit more about how your research matters today?

I direct the recently established Institute for Infrastructure in Society. My research team and I want to understand how community engagement informs and improves the delivery of major infrastructure, from roads and rail to schools and hospitals. Infrastructure will play an important role in Australia’s COVID-19 recovery. It can deliver short-to-medium term economic stimulus while developing Australia’s intergenerational infrastructure, for which we have a $600 billion need. Our research is now assisting government and industry to apply a ‘COVID-19 lens’ to infrastructure delivery and is working to inform choices about how that infrastructure is planned and delivered. We are suggesting a reprioritising of health infrastructure, including hospitals, health precincts (e.g. John Hunter Health and Innovation Precinct, Greater Newcastle, Hunter and northern NSW), development of telehealth and health R&D. Investments in telecommunications and social and affordable housing all make good sense in the recovery environment, particularly with more Australians likely to be working from home for the foreseeable future. Our research aims to support community involvement in these decisions and to help policymakers to understand and incorporate community perspectives, especially during challenging times.

Can you tell us about a feel-good dish that you or someone in your family makes in stressful times?

Oh, you just opened a can of worms. If I didn’t have to work, I would live in my kitchen. I have probably roasted more chickens in the past few months than the past several years combined (sorry, vego friends!). There’s nothing like a roast chook with potatoes and parsnips and a good bottle of red on an autumn evening stuck at home. My whole family loves to be in the kitchen and I have a couple of very good baker’s helpers at home. Carrot cakes, American style brownies, cupcakes left on doorsteps for friends’ lockdown birthdays, these are all comfort-food winners. And never go past a good pancake breakfast with real maple syrup. I have not, however, gotten into the sourdough trend. I have enough issues with my real mother (No, Mom, really, that was a joke. You are amazing and I love you!).

Can you tell us about one of your funniest/most special moments when teaching a class?

Teaching is the best job. For me, it’s so enjoyable that I feel privileged that I am paid to do it. I’ve been teaching for quite a while now, so it’s difficult to pick from the many funny/special moments, but all have been thanks to my students and co-teachers. The thing that’s so special are those points when the students have really gelled as a group, when the conversation is going so well, I can just step back and watch it flow. I love those moments. Also, having an audience for my very nerdy academic stand-up. And that moment in a class of 100 when I start identifying people by their names (I always get to know all my students’ names, usually on day one. Party trick. Ask me later.). That’s a fun one.

Can you give us your top three tips about how to stay positive during the COVID-19 outbreak?

Savour small victories: Whether you just drafted 50 words or 500, got through Zoom teaching by letting your kids exceed their Annual Bluey Quotient or put the laundry out to dry before it went mouldy, high-five yourself! Get outdoors: There’s nothing like fresh air to make you feel better. Rain, wind or shine, getting up and getting outside every day does a body good. Keep it in perspective: Things are pretty weird right now. And I imagine most of us are not doing what we thought we’d be doing at this point in 2020. So, I’m taking the long view and reminding myself that everything in life is temporary. Having a goal of doing the best I can, when I can, where I can is what I’m asking of myself right now. And so far, it’s working (refers back to point one, gives self high-five).

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