2001: February

From the Head

From the Head of School

I have just come from the first meeting of the Project Users' Group for the redevelopment of Warrah. There was a very positive feel to the meeting, and particularly a great deal of support from Professor Napper and Professor Hesketh. Murray Henwood will become the School's second representative on the PUG. (It seems that Project Users' Groups never have more than one or two users; however, once the project is under way a Project Working Group will be set up, which will have more actual users of Warrah on it).

We have been asked to have another look at the briefing documents that have been written over the years, and to decide which parts of the work are most important. The idea of a commercial partner has been put into suspension after the recent financial failure of a commercial environmental education centre at Ebor in Northern New South Wales. I consulted a number of people in the School about this some time ago, and this choice is in line with the comments I received then. The best option seems to be to use the money the School has set aside and the money available from the Heydon bequest to start work, but to plan so that further redevelopment will be easy when funds are available. Later stages could involve a commercial partner, further funding from University sources (not very likely) or other outside sources. The Dean has started working towards some co-operation between Universities in New South Wales, and also with TAFE, to support field stations for teaching and research, which might in future be another source of support for redeveloping Warrah. In order to ensure that our hard-won building funds are not eaten into, Prof. Napper asked Facilities Management to do a maintenance audit and ensure that existing problems are dealt with. Murray and I will be in touch fairly soon for help in developing the brief.

The April meeting of the School Board has been postponed to May 1, as the VC's Forum for staff clashed with our original date. Redevelopment of Warrah will be on the agenda. If Board meetings are to be a real forum for the School, your input as a Board member or through your representative is essential. So do let me know what you would like to raise or to have discussed. I will send a formal call for Agenda items closer to the date of the meeting, but don't wait for that, please!

Roz Hinde

Curriculum Review Committee

The School Curriculum Committee is about to come into existence. The Committee consists of Mike Thompson (Chair), Robyn Overall, Charlotte Taylor, Rosanne Quinnell and Elizabeth May, and the brief is:

"The first task of the Curriculum Committee will be to provide the School with a strategic review of its teaching. It will continue as a permanent subcommittee of the Teaching Committee, and will report to SAC through the Teaching Committee”.

Terms of Reference

  1. To undertake a strategic review of the School's curricula (years 1 to 3) with the aim of identifying changes required for 2002 and determining strategic directions for teaching over the next 5 years (by June 2001), and then to oversee the continuing evolution of the curricula
  2. To promote vertical integration of units of study across years within the School
  3. To promote horizontal integration of Biological Sciences units of study with other programs within the College
  4. To respond to changes in the HSC curriculum
  5. To respond to changes in availability of resources"

The reality is that, before June 30th, I would like to achieve:

  1. Talk to all members of academic staff within the School, and other interested people both inside and outside the School, to establish where you think there is opportunity for stream-lining, eliminating overlap and increasing the educational outcome within our educational offerings. The committee is small for ease of management, but it is important that everyone feels enfranchised by the committee. Recommendations will be made on the basis of what you want, not imposed from "above".
  2. Identify areas in our staffing profile where we cannot meet our commitments, or our desired educational outcomes, with the view of recommending a future appointments strategy.

Already, I have received comment about problems with the introduction of the MBLG, overlap in some of our offerings in cell biology and changes to the HSC. I invite you to e-mail me with any comments relevant to the committee at any time

Mike Thompson
24 Feb. 2001

Head of School's Report



Dr Mike Kingsford has resigned to take up the Chair of Marine Biology and Aquaculture at JCUNQ; his last day of duty will be 6 April 2001.

Dr Lars Jermiin commenced duties as Lecturer (vice Danckwerts) on 15 January 2000.

Dr Neville Firth commenced duties as Lecturer (Bioinformatics) on 1 January 2000 (to 31 December 2002).

Dr Frank Seebacher is due to take up duties as Associate Lecturer (vice Harvey/Gwyther) on 29 January 2000.

Dr Alfie Meats will be retiring on 28 February 2001. He has been appointed as Honorary Associate of the School from 1 March for 3 years (see below).

Ms Pam Wray has retired. Her last day of duty was 25 January 2001. Her position is being filled on a casual basis until 12 March, at which time Ms Suzan Ramsey will be transferred into it and will work 28 hours per week.

Mr Julio Pena has accepted voluntary redundancy. His last day of duty was 9 February 2001.

Mr Marco Fabiani took up duties on 5 February (vice Klomp, maternity leave) to 25 May 2001.

Directorship of First Year

Dr Sue Franklin has taken over the Directorship of First Year, as of 1 January 2001.

Student prize

Congratulations to Ricky Spencer on winning the student prize for best spoken paper at the Ecological Society of Australia's meeting held in Melbourne in late November. Ricky's talk was judged best from an impressive field of high quality student talks and his win is a fine achievement.

Grants received

Sesqui R & D 2001
See attached sheet.

Glaxo Wellcome Australia Ltd.
A/Professor P J Armati: $40,000

Honorary Appointments

Honorary Associate
Mr Matthias Nyberg (nominated by Dr Dickman)
Dr Alfie Meats (nominated by the Head of School)

Sesquicentenary Grant Scheme






Recommended Funding ($K)




Protein requirements for bandicoots and bilbies






Mating systems in snakes






Energetics of singing in cicadas



Rouse & Jermiin

Dr & Dr

GW & L

Morphology and diversity of Australian featherstars and sea lilies (Crinoidea)






Celebrating a decade of success in biology

Mary Peat
Charlotte Taylor

For the past 12 years a group of staff has been united by a teaching commitment to FYB. This collaboration has involved a pooling of individual ideas, expertise, interests and philosophies to further the common aim of providing students with an excellent learning experience. This will foster an ongoing interest in the sciences and an understanding of the main issues that face us as we move into the 21st century. The team is responsible for the implementation of seven units of study taken by up to 1600 students.

The overall teaching philosophy in first year biology is to provide students with an enjoyable and intellectually stimulating first year experience. The philosophy is communicated to the students in an "orientation" section at the beginning of their notes. This was originally written to help unpack the curriculum (in line with one of the recommendations of McInnis et al., 1995), so that students have a clear understanding of our expectations of them. This is complemented by setting up peer groups within the large lab classes, thus offering opportunities for students to develop learning communities that provide a safe, student-centred learning environment. These initiatives have encouraged students to be more independent and to use one another as a resource, while our teaching strategy has moved to having a guiding or learning facilitation role. Over the years we have developed activities to support this mode. The key features of the first year experience in the context of our philosophy and in line with our Faculty's Teaching and Learning Plan, are to:

  • Provide students with an enjoyable introduction to the scientific discipline of biology. This includes a Bridging Course (introduced in 1999), an introductory lab class to get to know one another and the learning environment, within the context of biology, and detailed documentation with clearly defined learning goals and objectives.
  • Create a student-centred learning environment in the laboratory sessions by setting up peer groups for experiments and other group activities, integrating games and group discussion activities to stimulate active learning within peer groups and creating sequential learning experiences building on student understanding and use of the biological materials.
  • Offer learning resources to students in several ways to increase the flexibility of access for all students by providing a Virtual Learning Environment on the Web ( with access to learning resources and student-student and student-staff communication, whilst maintaining a Resource Centre equipped with paper-based and computer based learning resources, microscopes, posters etc. as back-up.
  • Offer students synchronous and asynchronous meetings/communication with staff (academic, administrative and technical) to give help and support on any aspect of the unit of study with face-to-face consultation available every week and access to CyberStaff (-Tutor, -Admin and -Tech) via the VLE. Web-based discussions among staff and students (using WebTeach) on specific topics such as report writing skills, examination techniques and lecture related topics are integrated into the program.
  • Enable students to help themselves, so that they take the responsibility for their own learning and develop life-long learning skills, by providing web-based tutorial modules which also provide revision/quiz questions, self-assessment modules (SAMs) comprising a variety of question styles and extensive feedback, material for lecture preparation, and a mid semester practice exam.
  • Enable students to begin to develop generic skills within a context of 'real world' biology by working in teams in the laboratory context, presenting talks to small groups, researching and producing poster presentations in small groups, reading and critically discussing scientific materials, and being required to word process written assessment tasks.


The more astute of our members will realise that it is now the third week of March and we are only just settling down to read the first enthralling installment of SOBscript for the year. My profoundist apologies for the delay, I can only plead chronic overcommitment. What has been happening, you ask? Just about everything. We have had births, departures, arrivals, prizes, retirements and completions. I will try and keep it short and sweet - the prose may be less than what you have come to expect!


Virginia Creighton (nee Klomp) had a bouncing baby boy at 3.20 am on 1/12/00. Vital Statistics; Zackery Alan Creighton, 3.6kg
50cm long. Both are well.


Julian Hughes and Heather Patterson have left as a prelude to the imminent demise of the Fush Lab in April. Gissele Walker has left for Copenhagen and London to indulge her passions for protistology and baroque violin - half her luck! Sohan Shetty has given up his career as a hammock engineer and stand up comic and left for a brief respite at home in India. While not yet gone, Bob Reed will soon be leaving for Texas. His absence will be met with a sigh of relief from the Dickman lab who look forward to a marked improvement in the taste of their coffee.


Some have arrived, others have just changed hats. Lars Jermiin is no longer a much valued guest from ANGIC, he is now Lecturer in Cell Biology, while Ron Skurray is bemoaning the lost of his trusted second, Neville Firth has evolved into the Lecturer for Bio-informatics. In the new faces section Frank Seebacher has returned ( he is an ex student). Frank has kindly sent me this bio - we may also look forward to rogue crocodiles in the building again.

Frank Seebacher joined the Biological Sciences as an Associate Lecturer. He did his undergraduate degree here at Sydney University, and completed his PhD at the University of Queensland. Since then, he has held post-doctoral positions at James Cook University in Townsville and at The University of Queensland. His main research interests are the thermal and cardiovascular physiology of reptiles, and biophysical theory. At the moment, he is involved in several research projects on:
- cardiac control during thermoregulation in lizards (with Craig Franklin from UQ) - metabolic enzyme activity of crocodiles (with Mark Read from QldNPWS) and alligators (with Ruth Elsey from the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, and Helga Guderley from Laval University in Quebec) - crocodile thermal relations (with Gordon Grigg from UQ) - crocodile diving physiology (with C. Franklin and G. Grigg) - dinosaur thermal physiology and morphology - evolution of endothermy.

Frank's contact details and office are still somewhat undecided, but he has
a lab (331 in A08) and an e-mail address (


Alfie Meats retired on the 28th of February and promptly gave us a terrible fright! We wish Alfie all the best and a speedy recovery - he was sighted by a reliable source sneaking into the building late last week - and look forward to more of his priceless input.


Ricky Spencer won the prize for the best student paper at the Australian Society of Herpetologists in Tasmania in February.


Mike Thompson supplied this precis of events for the last couple of months- “I have just spent 2 1/2 weeks at 2 meetings in New Zealand. The first was the Society for Research on Amphibians and Reptiles in New Zealand, where I presented 2 papers on behalf of myself, Chris Murphy (Anatomy and Histology) and Margot Hosie (EM Unit). Some of our ex-students were there: Sarah Smith (did honours with Rick Shine, now doing Ph.D. in Adelaide) and Paul Doughty (Ph.D. with Rick Shine, now postdoc at ANU). The meeting was on Lake Rotoiti in Nelson Lakes National Park. The weather was glorious and I even took a plunge into the lake (takes your breath away - snow melt). The second meeting was an international conference, the Ecology of Insular Biotas at Victoria University of Wellington, where I was invited to give the after dinner speech - a nerve wracking prospect. I found the after dinner speech to be infinitely more difficult than a scientific presentation, but it went down famously on the night. Others of our ex-students were at the meeting, including Carl and Fiona Qualls (nee Downey) who are now postdocing in Guam, and Dave Slip who is now the Wildlife Officer on Christmas Island.

All in all, it was another rotten trip to New Zealand. While I was away, Melinda kept the wheels of research ticking over nicely in the lab.

Greg Rouse recently held a successful exhibition of his astounding mixed media art work at the Lewis Morely Gallery in Stanmore. The exhibition entitled minutiae comprised photographs, electron micro graphs and hand coloured images of life under the microscope.