Dr Simon Walsh PSM
About the speaker
Our speaker today is Dr Simon Walsh PSM.
Simon is the Chief Forensic Scientist of the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and also holds the role of AFP National Disaster Victim Identification (DVI) Commander.
He has led Australian Forensic and Disaster Victim Identification (DVI) response to the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 and has held similar responsibilities following incidents such as the Christchurch Earthquake; the Victorian Bushfires, and many others.
Prior to joining the AFP, he held a number of professional and academic positions in forensic science, including 4 years as a Lecturer in Forensic Biology with the UTS Faculty of Science, where he contributed to the development of the inaugural Bachelor’s Degree in Applied Science in Forensic Biology.
Simon has been extensively involved in the development of National DNA Database operations and is the Chair of the INTERPOL DNA Monitoring Expert Group.
Simon holds a Bachelor of Science with Honours from University of Queensland and a Doctor of Philosophy from UTS. In 2014, he was awarded the UTS Vice-Chancellor’s Award for Excellence and the Faculty of Science Alumni of the Year. In July 2015 Simon was awarded the Public Service Medal for outstanding public service in forensic science particularly disaster victim identification.
It gives me great pleasure to invite Dr Simon Walsh to deliver the occasional address.
I would like to begin by paying my respects and acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land upon which today’s ceremony takes place. I pay my respects to their elders past and present.
- Deputy Chancellor
- UTS Council Members
- Members of UTS Executive
- Academic staff
- Ladies and gentlemen and, of course, …
I am very pleased to be here today and I thank UTS for the opportunity to provide this occasional address and to help mark what is a very significant day in the life of the graduands receiving their degrees today, and of course in the life of this great institution of UTS, which sees another cohort of its graduates achieve their academic goals.
To our graduands let me begin by saying congratulations and thank you. Congratulations on achieving your bachelors, or postgraduate qualifications and for what that achievement represents in terms of your commitment, perseverance and intellect. And thank you for choosing to apply yourself in such vital disciplines of science and business.
21 years ago I was in your shoes for the first time, a graduate of science with Honours and a double major in anatomy and major in biochemistry. I knew what that meant from an academic perspective but, to be honest, I didn’t know what it meant in terms of the wider world and our community.
I distinctly remember thinking “so now I have a science degree,… I am a scientist... so now what? What do I do now?”
This is hopefully one thing that I have learnt over the past 21 years…
What I failed to understand then was that the value of my tertiary education was not just the subject matter and content of what I had studied – but what the practice of that learning journey had entrenched in me, and how it would ground and shape how I could direct and apply my skills and knowledge to the challenges and opportunities I would face professionally, and, to lesser extent, personally.
Let me give you a personal example:
I remember late in first year (perhaps too late from the perspective of some of my lecturers) when I ventured into the science library at UQ where I took my undergraduate studies. I remember a distinctly foreign and somewhat isolating or disempowering feeling as I struggled to unlock the mazes of periodicals and text books. By the following year, however, and forever more I had fallen in love with libraries and what they represent. In there you have the confidence to explore an idea or topic, to use the body of literature to shape or develop a theory so you can deliver an argument or outcome that can stand up as a decisive and credible contribution to a problem. Your contribution to a problem.
That is an example of what you now know. The value of what you have learnt. The instinct to critique and analyse and the confidence to construct and convey your input or your idea or your solution.
And that is also where we now have an expectation of you, something else that I have learnt. Each of you is now a specialist, a member of the science community or the business community. Have you ever noticed how those words are commonly put together? Science community. Business community. And how often the views of the science community or business community are spoken of in respect of major issues or policies? I am sure you have. I have too. Have you ever stopped and thought about why that is so? It is because they are expert, objective views that matter. Of course, they do not always align, but together, the scientific and business dimensions of an issue will often define it sufficiently so as to position the views and debate within the wider community.
You, now, as members of science or business communities have a responsibility to the entire community. Your field of expertise and endeavour is intrinsic to our countries security, competitiveness and long-term prosperity.
I love my job. Each passing year of my career, I find myself feeling even happier and luckier that I chose a career in science, specifically in Forensic Science. I went towards this career because criminal justice and social justice were, and remain, areas of our society that interested me most and were where I wanted to make my mark.
I don’t really like criminals. I don’t like how they exploit vulnerable people in our community and damage their lives and gain power or stature or wealth as a consequence.
I particularly don’t like terrorists. I don’t like how their threats and acts are so abhorrent and extreme that they cause our communities to fear or fall subject to violent acts that without the evil of terrorism they would not have ever even contemplated.
And, like everyone, I am motivated and inspired to help when disaster strikes, as it does and will again, destroy lives and families and pock-mark our history and our nations story.
As a scientist, I can do something about these and other issues that matters to me. I can seek out ways to use technologies that I understand, or knowledge that I have, or networks or partnerships that I have formed through research or professional practice to impact these problems and challenges that I care about and are now in my area of responsibility. I can translate the problem into scientific terms that I can then do something about, and I can then retranslate the results of my analysis into outcomes that enrich our understanding of a threat or criminal event or provide direct support to an investigation or prosecution or allow for agencies or communities to begin to respond to a disaster.
Importantly, and I hope obviously, the value of my contribution is in the objectivity, accuracy, and integrity of my specialist input. I am a scientist and as a scientific professional this is what I can offer, in my work, and in applying my work to issues of importance to our community. This is what it means to be a scientist. This is what I have learnt.
You all now have that knowledge and potential. But to succeed from here you will need to take some things with you from your experiences to date.
Take on the principles that underpin the learning journey that you have formally concluded today and find ways to reapply them to the issues and opportunities that matter the most to you. That will continually fire your passion and motivation and we will all be the better for it.
Take your support network, your friends and peers and, most importantly, your extraordinary families who I know will have supported you so wholeheartedly to this point, and will continue to do so.
And finally take the legacy and benefits of this place, UTS, this remarkable, modern, urban university. Stay connected to the academic and alumni networks here, you will need them as your career continues forward.
You will dominate the emerging workforce of this country. You will develop and embrace new technologies, new industries, new solutions or new sources of prosperity.
As I remarked at the outset I thank you for your application to these most vital fields of endeavour.
I congratulate you on the achievement that you each celebrates today, and I wish you every success in your future careers.
This is your time.
Go and make your mark.