Virginia Baker has been a member of ESR’s Social Systems Group for 15 years. Based in Wellington, much of Virginia’s work supports ESR’s biophysical science teams.
One of Virginia’s main projects is the ESR-led work for the Centre for Integrated Biowaste Research (CIBR). The project involves working with iwi, communities, local councils, engineers and scientists.
“It’s a collaborative project that draws upon local knowledge and expertise to build appropriate solutions for managing biowastes,” Virginia says.
She says understanding social values and practices is important, especially for how we best manage things like biowastes which are mostly human-generated wastes like sewage, food waste, chemicals, and household products that go down the drain. Some of Virginia’s work in this area is also focused on raising awareness of waste with schools and communities.
“What I enjoy about this project is that the work with communities helps guide and inform the science that we do. Also the laboratory techniques that we are developing in CIBR make our science better able to explore ‘real world’ issues with communities. For instance, we are now able to investigate complex mixtures of contaminants in wastewater, and are finding that the environmental effects of certain combinations of chemicals may be more toxic together than they would be alone.
“The knowledge that we can build at the interface of science and community practice really helps strengthen our policy and decision-making frameworks for better human and environmental health outcomes.”
Virginia earned a Bachelor of Arts with Honours in Sociology from the University of Canterbury. She continued on with her academic career, but found she was drawn to real-world research.
“Our team is able to look at the human side of issues. Our work is very much about using systems approaches to find innovative and collaborative solutions to some of New Zealand’s most complex and pressing issues.”