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Editor Spotlight: Jaz Lawes

EveryONE is excited to feature Dr. Jaz Lawes in our first Editor Spotlight of the year! In the post, Dr. Lawes discusses her career in research, her advice on working with diverse collaborators, and the importance of science communication and education.

Dr. Jaz Lawes is the Research Team Leader at Surf Life Saving Australia, whose multi-disciplinary research combines field-based and epidemiological approaches to understand human-environment interactions. Jaz is passionate about applied science and education that build relationships between community and the coast and using research to inform policy and initiatives that prompt a shift in the way we understand and promote coastal environments, safety and risk. For more information about her research visit SLSA’s research page and UNSW’s beach safety research group’s page.

I think genuinely believing that almost everyone is doing their best and well-intended allows for the development of meaningful connections with all types of stakeholders.

Jaz Lawes

You have a rich and multidisciplinary background of marine ecology and conservation science. How does it lead you to your current field of coastal safety?

My background is multidisciplinary and applied, spanning the following research areas: public, environmental and occupational health; ecology; environmental science; behavioural science; biology; biodiversity conservation; marine biology; sports science; and interdisciplinary social sciences. Background of teaching and researching marine, ecology and conservation sciences led to me to understand that to see positive changes in any field with our science we need to build understanding and support within the community.

Coastal environments are central to Australian identity and culture. They also provide unique recreation opportunities and access to coastal ‘blue spaces’ known to promote multiple health benefits. They are also at the interface of human-environmental interactions. Similarly, the Surf Life Saving movement is at the forefront of these interactions with over 190,000 volunteer surf lifesavers and lifeguards who serve and safeguard the community around Australia. Since moving to Surf Life Saving Australia, I have been able to pursue a diverse research portfolio with real, tangible outcomes for our members and the community as a whole – ranging from mental health, drowning prevention, epidemiology, marine hazards (i.e. sharks, stingers), and many more.

Drivers and impacts of change are being increasingly explored through interconnected research that investigates interactions and connections between humans, environments, ecosystems, and health and wellbeing. It is increasingly recognised that time spent in natural environments positively impacts on mental and physical health (specifically reducing stress and increasing perceptions of wellbeing, by strengthening connections with nature, learning, and physical activity. These connections highlight the importance of linking and promoting the human health and wellbeing perspective with environmental and conservation messaging and actions. My general intention is for our research outcomes to change or guide the way we translate research findings into tangible actions that support the community and our beautiful environments.

In addition to leading research projects, you have experience collaborating with colleagues from multiple sectors. What is your advice in successfully engaging with diverse stakeholders?

In my academic, professional, and industry roles, I have led and been regularly involved in various collaborative projects with multiple academics, external stakeholders, demonstrators, and technical staff in a variety of circumstances and environments. As a team member, I am mindful of my role and the roles of others to deliver successful outcomes. I believe that the development of strong interpersonal relationships through regular on open communication – with honesty, kindness and empathy. I think genuinely believing that almost everyone is doing their best and well-intended allows for the development of meaningful connections with all types of stakeholders. Also remember everyone makes mistakes – it’s how we learn! I think we are lucky in the research world as generally researchers are open to feedback and supportive of mentoring opportunities – so my advice is if you don’t know something – ask!

Why is science communication and education important to you and your field?

One of the biggest challenges currently facing scientists is effective and meaningful transformative communication that illustrates and demonstrates today how predicted impacts will impact on and disrupt the status quo in the future. As an impact ecologist, I specialise in applied, multidisciplinary research to understand and educate about human and environmental interactions. I see targeted community research and education as the most effective tool to transform attitudes and change behaviours to protect individuals and conserve our environment. With my research, I use a novel combination of research expertise to investigate and promote greater understanding of coastal impacts and explore how that may change with future environmental change.

With my role at SLSA, our team are at the forefront of developing innovative and practical solutions to environmental problems and public health concerns across multiple disciplines, that benefit researchers, practitioners and the broader community. My multidimensional perspective drives evidence-informed decisions into research and organisational strategy and builds productive working relationships and approaches to tackle real-world public health concerns, such as marine stings and rip current-related drowning. My experience so far has provided invaluable new perspectives to tackle research questions and supports my vision for applied science to drive the development of tangible solutions to real-world challenges.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by contributors are solely those of individual contributors, and not necessarily those of PLOS.

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