Adelaide's Thinker in Residence
In the last issue of the Adelaidean, we introduced Oxford University-based Baroness Professor Susan Greenfield, her science and her contribution to the Adelaide Thinkers in Residence program.
In this issue, Howard Salkow speaks with the world-leader in neuroscience to find out more about the person behind the science.
Q: Growing up in London, did you have childhood aspirations?
A: It was different to nowadays. Unless you wanted to be a doctor or a lawyer, there wasn't the pressure to have a career or a CV. I don't think I knew what a CV was. We also did not know about recessions or inflation. No, I did not really worry about what I was going to do.
Q: Were you ambitious?
A: Not really. I wanted to be a horse-riding instructor as I loved horses. My mother was a dancer and assumed I would go on stage, but that disappeared early. I was an average dancer, and knew I could not make a profession of it.
Q: Of your awards, does the Life Peerage stand out?
A: Certainly. But two others stand out. The Legion d'Honour (2003) from the French Government. I was pleased and flattered to have been recognised by a foreign government. It also came out of the blue. The other is the Honorary Fellowship of the Royal College of Physicians (2000), again because of its august makeup.
Q: How do people address you?
A: It depends where I am. But I don't have a hang up about titles. People call me Susan. Generally, I ask them to call me whatever is appropriate for the culture or the moment. I certainly don't like it if someone who has never met me calls me by my first name because they're trying it on and they want to look as though they know me. Baroness is an interesting title to have, although usually you don't think about it on a daily basis.
Queen Nora of Jordan said a marvellous thing about her title: "Queen is something I do, not what I am." I think that's very good. I think for me, Baroness is something that enables me to do certain things that others might find harder to do, or don't have that privilege.
Q: How do you define the time devoted to thinking?
A: It's not compartmentalised. The whole scheme (Thinkers in Residence program) sounds as if I just go off to the beach. But that's not the case. You only have to look at my schedule to see it's an interactive and demanding series of nine weeks. But I think the sentiment behind it is appropriate. This means taking a broad view and standing back from a situation, and instead of doing a job, being someone who can comment on the big picture. I think the Premier is committed to acting on at least some of the suggestions that the Thinkers make in a process that is continuous and homogenous.
Q: What do you hope to achieve in Adelaide?
A: I'd like it to be the first place in the world where science or the scientist is central to people's lives. But I will be happy if in a year's time, Adelaide is acknowledged as the first city or community where science had been taken so seriously that it is plugged into many sectors where it is not traditionally associated. I will be working on this as I meet with people from various sectors.
Q: What drives you?
A: I still feel I am struggling as much as was in my 20s to achieve certain things. I don't feel that I've made it and can sit back and be complacent. For example, I want to do research that combines humanities with science and I have grant from an American foundation at the moment. I'd like to create the first place in England that actually combined theology and philosophy with cognitive sciences and neuroscience. I would like to make a very serious and definite contribution to alleviating neurodegenerative disorders, which is my main work, and I would like to be seen as making a serious contribution to the debate on how the brain generates consciousness.
Q: Do you have a role model?
A: Elizabeth I. She was a wonderful, clever, daring woman in a man's world.
Q: What's the other side to Susan Greenfield?
A: I love shopping. I'm afraid this sounds terribly low level but my most favourite is hanging out with friends with a good bottle of wine in the evening. I just love it, because a lot of what I have to do in the evening is formal, where there is a particular agenda or I'm expected to perform in a particular way. I therefore love to be with friends, let the gossip flow and have fun.