STEMM Profile: Dr Dana Cordell | Research Principal | Institute for Sustainable Futures | University of Technology Sydney | Sydney

Dr Dana Cordell [Image: Fiona Livy, UTS]
” … maximising influence through research requires a combination of seeking strategic windows of opportunity, using the right communication tools, and targeting the right people”

Dr Dana Cordell leads and undertakes international and Australian research projects on sustainable food and phosphorus futures in the Institute for Sustainable Futures at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS). Dana’s pioneering research within the field of food security has established the fundamental scientific basis for global phosphorus scarcity and has largely contributed to putting this topic on international and Australian science and policy agendas.

In 2008 Dana co-founded the Global Phosphorus Research Initiative – the first global platform to undertake research, policy and public engagement to ensure food systems are resilient to global phosphorus scarcity. Many projects involve high-level stakeholder engagement to improve the policy relevance, impact and foster mutual-learning. Dana leads the collaborative P-FUTURES project across Australia, Vietnam, Malawi and the U.S which aims to identify together with local stakeholders how urban food systems can cope or transform in response to the emerging global challenge of phosphorus scarcity. Dana currently leads the Sydney’s Food Futures project, which models current and future food production scenarios to support stakeholder dialogue and decision-making on resilient food futures for Sydney in the face of climate change and urban growth.

As a global food security expert, Dana provides expert advice and commentary to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Australia’s Chief Scientist and the UK Parliament. She most recently joined UNEP’s Global Environment Outlook team as a global food security contributor. Her 2009 article in Elsevier’s Global Environmental Change has attracted 1017 citations and a position in ScienceDirect’s Top 25 Hottest Articles (Environmental Science). Dana’s research contributions have led to numerous prestigious recognitions including one of Australia’s top science prize, the Eureka Prize for Environmental Research (2012) and a position in the Australian Financial Review/Westpac 100 Women of Influence 2013 and Top 100 Most Influential People (Sydney Magazine, 2012). She is frequently interviewed for media, including Radio National, ABC Lateline, Nature and London’s The Times.

What has been the biggest barrier you have faced in your career and how did you overcome it?

Initially the phosphorus problem wasn’t taken seriously by the scientific community, but I was determined not to be discouraged or intimidated. While my first scientific article took 942 days to get published due to this resistance, today it remains one of the most highly cited article of the esteemed journal Global Environmental Change.

What are you most proud of in your science career?

In 2008, I co-founded the Global Phosphorus Research Initiative (GPRI) and public outreach website, in collaboration with colleagues in Sweden and Australia. The GPRI is the first collaborative platform of its kind to address the pertinent issues of phosphorus sustainability linked to global food security. I later expanded the GPRI, bringing together six leading research institutes and Nobel Prize laureate Paul Crutzen as the GPRI’s first ambassador.

What would you say is your most valuable personal attribute that has helped you succeed?

Can I say three things? Understanding that maximising influence through research requires a combination of seeking strategic windows of opportunity, using the right communication tools, and targeting the right people. In my opinion, the best way to advance scientific knowledge on a previously ignored issue is via novel and interdisciplinary research approaches.

Who and/or what inspires you to achieve?

My boss Professor Stuart White (Director, Institute for Sustainable Futures). He is eternally optimistic, and always manages to see the opportunity in every challenge. Nothing is too hard, no risks are too great – as researchers, we view other academics as collaborators, rather than competitors, in our goal to co-create change towards sustainable futures.

What have you learnt during your career to increase your resilience?

To never settle for the status quo. I believe that research integrity involves constant critical reflection: negotiating the fine balance between staying true to one’s values/goals, assessing hidden agendas, and being open-minded to new insights from critics. And above all, to have three things: passion, persistence, and patience in all that you do.

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