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Maxine Bryant - research investments director and biological scientist | S2E1

February 15, 2022

Maxine Bryant - research investments director and biological scientist | S2E1
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In this episode:  Leading research investments at a Crown Research Institute for agriculture and biotechnology. The business of science, balancing stakeholders and priorities while staying on mission. Not having a planned career, taking a conscientious approach to going with the flow. Complexities of Māori engagement in science. Relationship-based leadership. Changing jobs after a long period in one place.

About the Guest:  Maxine Bryant is an experienced team leader, project manager, and research management professional with fifteen years experience in the tertiary sector, specialising in operations management, system development, and policies and process.

Prior to joining AgResearch as Associate Research Director Investments, she worked at the University of Canterbury for fifteen years in a range of roles including project managing the development and implementation of various research management tools, Performance Based Research Fund Manager, and Director of Research Services (managing pre-award and post-award research office functions). In these roles she worked closely with colleagues from the academy, Human Resources, Library and Information Technology Services.

Trained in biological science, Maxine holds a PhD in molecular genetics from the University of Canterbury. She serves on the Australasian Research Management Society (ARMS) Board, is an ARMS accredited training fellow, member of the ARMS New Zealand and Pacific Islands Chapter Committee. She is also a Certified Project Management Professional.

Maxine whakapapas to Ngāti Kahungunu ki Wairoa. 

[Maxine's LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/maxine-bryant-5704501b1/]

Recorded 8 December 2021

Links:

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About the Host: Despite never letting school interfere with his education, Danu has nevertheless acquired two social science degrees and an executive MBA. He toils at the intersection of education, technology and society and has worked at various times in teaching, research, project management, business development and customer service. He has so many interests that he has started to outsource them, and his life plan is rapidly running out of alphabet.  [Danu's LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/danupoyner/]

Music: Kleptotonic Swing by Tri-Tachyon

Website: stillcuriouspodcast.com | Email: stillcuriouspodcast@gmail.com
Instagram: @stillcuriouspod |  Twitter: @stillcuriouspod

Transcript
Maxine Bryant:

Building relationships with Māori organizations take a long time, it's that classic thing where scientists think I need to engage with Māori. Can I ring them up? Who can I talk to it's due next week? Can we sort it out? That's not a successful approach they will work with you when they know you and they trust you and they like you, and they want to see that real relationship. Once that's in place, you're sorted and the rest will happen and they will fix it for you and you will be family. That's probably very similar to the way that I am.

Danu Poyner:

You're listening to the Still Curious Podcast with me, Danu Poyner. My guest today is Maxine Bryant, an experienced team leader, project manager and research management professional, with 15 years experience in the tertiary sector, who is currently the Associate Research Director of Investments at AgResearch, a New Zealand Crown Research Institute that uses science to serve the agriculture and biotechnology sectors of New Zealand industry. Maxine is trained in biological science and holds a PhD in molecular genetics. In this episode, we discuss the business of science and what's involved in balancing stakeholders and priorities while staying on mission.

Maxine Bryant:

That is a very difficult balancing act for us. We work very closely with industry the scientists are very passionate about the stakeholders they support. but we also need to be thinking about the future and the things that our partners might not realize they need yet.

Danu Poyner:

We talk about following your interests and taking a conscientious approach to going with the flow.

Maxine Bryant:

I've never had a very planned career, I just find things interesting. And I pursue them Maybe that's curiosity by stealth.

Danu Poyner:

We go into some of the complexities surrounding Māori engagement in science, Maxine's journey and perspective on leadership and the joys of changing jobs after a long period in one place.

Maxine Bryant:

When you've been in a place for so long, you lose sight of how much you've learned, how much you've grown, how much you actually know when you go into another organization

Danu Poyner:

Maxine is one of my very favorite people in the research world, highly active and accomplished, while also funny, self-effacing and always refreshingly down to earth. I hope you enjoy this conversation as much as I did. It's Maxine Bryant coming up right after the music break on today's episode of the Still Curious Podcast. Kia ora Maxine, welcome to the podcast. How are you?

Maxine Bryant:

Well, Danu thank you. How are you?

Danu Poyner:

Very well, thank you. So you're the Associate Research Director of Investments at AgResearch, which is one of New Zealand's seven Crown Research Institutes and AgResearch is focused on science and technology projects for the benefit of the agricultural sector and New Zealand. And prior to this role, you were the Director of Research Services at University of Canterbury. You're an experienced team leader, project manager and research management professional with 15 years experience in the tertiary sector. And you describe yourself as specializing in operations management, system development and policies and process. That's a lot. What would you say is the most important thing for someone to understand about what you do?

Maxine Bryant:

The main thing is it's just a lot of different experiences and skills that help support science and research to happen. In my previous role, and in my current role, I'm focused on helping support scientists to be funded and then manage their projects well. I've been lucky enough in my career to have had a whole lot of different projects to work on. So that's given me a range of experience. The more normal day-to-day things of funding applications and contracting and administration of projects, but then also helping implement systems or develop systems, which is a little bit more unusual in my role, and also the housekeeping of being in a leadership role. So working in HR and managing staffing issues, but also thinking about policies for staff but also policies that underpin science delivery.

Danu Poyner:

Thank you. I'm really interested to unpack that idea of supporting research to happen. I think that's something that people who are not from that world are probably surprised at how much goes into that.

Maxine Bryant:

Yeah. I think when you work in a university, people always ask you, so you're on holiday now. It's like, the students are on holiday. The rest of us keep working and doing the rest of our jobs. I don't teach and no, I don't do anything with students. Until you're in, not even in the, university setting but in the research setting, you don't understand what a business it is. and the number of roles and people that are involved in not just doing the science, but helping it happen.

Danu Poyner:

I'd love to hear specifically about the kind of work that happens at AgResearch, but one of the things I always do on the podcast first is how would you describe, in this case, what a Crown Research institute is to say a ten-year-old.

Maxine Bryant:

So a Crown Research Institute is set up by the government and its purpose is to study and make things better in specific areas that are of value to the country. In my case, it's helping us continue to support our food production and to do that better and to minimize the impact of doing that to the planet. Unlike a university only do research. We don't do students to do degrees. We do have postgraduate students. Those are students who have been to university and they've done this big classwork and they are then ready to start specializing into doing science and studying specific things. So they come and work with us and our scientists help show them how to do that so that they can become scientists in their own right. in a lot of cases, we do outreach or community activities because we are public servants, which means that we work for the government and all of New Zealanders. We will engage in debates or support New Zealand when we need to. For example, in the recent COVID that is happening, a lot of our people started working on projects that could help New Zealand do things better by creating better ways of killing COVID, for example.

Danu Poyner:

Mm. absolutely, thanks very much for that. Let's come back to AgResearch itself and you mentioned research as a business, which was a really interesting framing. Can you talk me through some examples of what keeps you busy as an Associate Research Director of investments?

Maxine Bryant:

It's called investments because we invest funding, but also people's time into supporting science. I have six teams and they're all focused on supporting the research life cycle. So each of those teams will support different parts from the planning to the funding, to the dissemination, to the impact and the, improvement. My six teams are the research office funding team. They help people bring in contestable funding to do the research that they want to do. The support team, which has all of the administrative support for the science teams. Those people who are helping manage subcontracts and doing invoicing and helping science teams run day to day, doing purchasing, et cetera. Animal ethics office. So making sure that the work that we do is appropriate and ethical and making sure that we go through legal requirements to ensure that's the case. They also are providing animal ethics services to other organizations across the country. Leaders in that space. Fourth team would be the library knowledge services team. So, traditional knowledge library function, but also information and records management in helping scientists, collate and turn it into knowledge. So thinking about literature reviews, et cetera. The insights team, which is the team that looks at what we do and provides data and new ways to give us strategic insight, but also supporting impact, generation of impact case studies, business cases, those kinds of functions. And the sixth team is the performance team, which is the team that helps make sure delivery of science is working well. So project management expertise who will help provide the framework for science projects to happen, but also specialists that will go in and work as project managers in projects where it's high risk or where a scientist is committed to a whole range of projects and needs some help and also helping with the Business efficiency. So thinking about business processes, and how we can work with particularly our IT colleagues to make sure that we are being as efficient as possible. That's busy just understanding what those teams are working on, also thinking about how they all fit together into the big picture of where we want to go and what the vision is for what we want to be achieving, helping make sure that in my role, I can help them work together well so that they can get a better result out of it. Another part is working with senior leadership to understand what's happening with AgResearch as a business. We have a lot of money that the government gives us to invest in our science it's over to us how we use that money, but it's $44 million to spend on primary production science and post-farm science, roughly speaking. the whole range of pastoral research, but more about farm systems and then more about adding value in getting better products out at the other end. So making sure that we are thinking strategically about how we use that, that it's working effectively, that we're funding the right things. They are probably the three big things for me at the moment.

Danu Poyner:

Great. Thank you. you said a few interesting things in there that I'd just like to pick out a little bit if that's okay. the first one is post-farm science. what can you tell me about what that is? And can you share any examples of how that kind of science makes its way into practice?

Maxine Bryant:

That is the science that is about the products that you make after the farm, the services you provide, and also how we help support that end of the value chain. That includes things like what's happening around food trends? How are we responding to it? How do we add value to foods? how do we get more value out of wool, how do we improve the quality of meat? How do we improve food safety? And for us, we look after primarily animal farming and pasture. So when we are thinking about the science, we do, we are looking to have impact in the real world. We are looking at ways of, continuing to farm in a way that's socially responsible. In ways that improve animal welfare or reduce climate impact, but also looking at how we can support businesses and farms which may be more productive, or it may be just adding more value to what they're already producing, because in a lot of cases, you can't be more productive without balancing all of the other impacts of that. We work very closely with industry and we are often guided by them around the sorts of problems that they have and we look at ways that we can do our science to help answer those needs. But we also need to be thinking about the future and the things that our partners might not realize they need yet. We do really future focused research that people may not see the immediate benefit of, but it's important knowledge for the sake of the knowledge and preparing us for the future. If you think about the COVID situation at the moment we weren't prepared for it and the world as a whole has spent a lot of money on trying to get to terms with it and understand it and fix it. But what we're trying to do is think about issues like that and predict them before they happen so that we can do the research that makes us be ready for when that happens. That's probably what all of the Crown Research Institutes are doing because of the nature of why they exist. We do a lot of work on ruminant microbiology and trying to figure out how we can stop cows and sheep producing gases that cause climate change.

Danu Poyner:

I have a question about this as you've talking, which is because it's quite industry aligned, how much do you spend working on the existing paradigm of farming and agriculture and how much is about critical agriculture or post-farm in the sense that there's all of these kinds of meat alternative industries, and I'm not sure if I'm using the right words

Maxine Bryant:

Yep. Yep. No alternative proteins is probably what we would say because for us that post-farm often it's about protein, so it might be milk or it might be meat, or it might be wool it's protein. So a lot of the work that we do there is taking those products, turning them down into the protein constituents and then rebuilding them into something better is the idea. This is something that we have clarity on because the contract with the government says, two-thirds of your time we want you to be working on farm systems and one-third we want you to be working on post-farm stuff. But at the same time, there's these different markets that we're working with and different partners and they will have different needs. so one thing is that on farm post-farm split, but also we have a bit of a mix in terms of those different types of science. 40% of our time. We want to be future focused and then 30% of our time, medium term, and then 30% now. When we work with our stakeholders we understand their problems and we work with them to figure what we might do. We may be investing in a multi-million dollar program of research. And within that, some of it will be very future-focused, which might be the stuff that we pay for. Whereas they may give us money to do the stuff that's very near focused. People often, they will have really great relationships with different companies or different farms where they're trialing different technologies. People choose to be there because they're passionate about the science they do, or they're passionate about the sector. I do feel a little bit unusual in the fact that I don't come from a farm, so I'm learning a lot of farming terminology as I go. It's amazing the number of people that are on farms or from farms or connected to farms in some way at the organization This is probably true of any science organization, but it's largely been happening by chance. And so when I talk about the, the business of research it's thinking about how we understand what those different science groups are doing and how they fit together. What does the nature of their funding look like? How much is future focused? How much is current work and thinking about how we plug the gaps or how we have a strategy to help grow the areas that are needed or missing at the moment. Trying to understand that, trying to systematize it in a way, but trying to have the oversight to make sure that we are delivering to the government in terms of the priority areas that they tell us they want us to be doing and the priority areas for our stakeholders. We're getting very clear messages from them now both of them, the government and our stakeholders are very concerned with climate change, which is a huge thing for us. Also, alternatives, particularly the government's interested in alternative proteins and also animal welfare is another big priority for us. Out of all the Crown Research Institutes, we're the one that is focused on the animals. most of the Crown Research Institutes will have some work that touches on climate and environment, but ours really is the animal space.

Danu Poyner:

It sounds like a really interesting place to be sitting in the middle of all of these different interests and trying to bring some shape and intentionality to the space.

Maxine Bryant:

Well that's my sort of way I do things, that's maybe my science background bio- genetics approach to it, but, I've only been here just over a year, I don't know all the details of everything. But when you come into an organization like this, it is so complex because there's a lot of people all doing different things. Loosely, there's a whole lot of people that are working on a certain topic, but they're all doing it in different ways. I think the thing that strikes me coming into the organization. It's not very easy to see what's happening as a new person. And that concerns me, that we can't clearly understand and articulate what it is that we do, what our priorities are and how that flows down into more and more detail, unless you've been here for several years and you know these people and you know everything they do. I don't know if that seems right to me when we're not particularly large. It's smaller than a university.

Danu Poyner:

How many people have you got?

Maxine Bryant:

I think we've got something like five to 600 scientists. I think when I read the annual report it was something like 750 people all up, including non-science.

Danu Poyner:

It does sound like a unique challenge to come into a space and try and figure out what's going on. That's always difficult when you come to a new place, but it does strike me that there's a lot of different balls in the air with this work, I wonder, as you mentioned that you've been there for a year or so, how have you approached that task of trying to figure out what's going on?

Maxine Bryant:

Probably quite badly. I guess the problem for me is I came into the organization at a period of change. Everything was up in the air and things just had to happen. I guess I haven't spent as much time out talking with scientists as I should have. And it's really just about band-aiding is that the right term? Just making sure that my area could do the priority things we needed to do in the timeframe that we had. We had some staffing gaps at the time. It was a large period of change and there was just a lot that had to happen. It's been a very busy and intense first year and a bit and I haven't really had the luxury to get to know the different science programs that well and the people that we have and what their skills are. That's a priority for me moving forward.

Danu Poyner:

Listening to you talk, it sounds like there's the business side and the science side, and you have a foot in squarely in both camps, because you have science background and you're also on the business side. We'll come to the background in a bit. One of the questions bubbling up for me, talking about the stakeholders and what the government priorities are and what the industry needs is, how do you hang on to the science and the objectivity. It sounds like almost a political space in the sense that there are very clear government priorities, very clear things that industry wants. And you're working closely with stakeholders. Science is renowned for objectivity and arms length independence. Is there a balancing act there and how does that work?

Maxine Bryant:

Oh, absolutely. I guess this is the role that leadership needs to play in an organization like this. As I was saying, the scientists are very passionate about the work that they do, the stakeholders they support. They've often been working with them for decades. They have very close relationships and they're very passionate about this specific thing. But when you're in the leadership and the management space, you need to think about what are the signals we are getting as an organization and what are the things that we need to prioritize. And yes, we've got a hundred different things happening but we can really only do 80. So where are we going to invest? That is a very difficult balancing act for us. It's slow cultural change. We are trying to understand what we focus on, and I think a lot of organizations are doing this. Science organizations are thinking about what's our point of difference of all the things we could do, why do we choose to do these specific things? And is it because we are the world leader or is it because we need to do it and no one else does it in New Zealand, but we need someone to do it. And we do have some of that and we do have some stuff where we will leading or is it stuff that we just do because we've always done it, but it's not necessarily what we should still be doing. So we are going through a period of thinking about that and trying to understand. We know one of the things are we do do, and we know what the things are that we don't do, but there's a real gray space in the middle where it's stuff we could do, but should we, so that's what we're trying to think about. I guess that comes back to the systemisation. It's hard to do that without having the right data. So that's understanding what we do, what our strengths are, who else is doing those things, what their strengths are, what relationships do we have with them? How do we work with them to get the best outcomes for the country or the planet, rather than all just trying to have a slice of the pie, when basically, no, one's getting a meal out of that because it's all getting cut into smaller pieces. And that's partly why the government is thinking about their future pathways paper at the moment, because they're trying to figure out how do they get the best result. The government is still the major funder of science and research in New Zealand through its direct investments and its contestable funding streams. so It is really hard, in one aspect coming into the organization as a new person, without understanding all of the detail about what people do and having those relationships is helpful because I don't have those personal conflicts but it's also hard to make those decisions without really understanding the full impact of what they all do.

Danu Poyner:

Yeah. A lot of ambiguity around the edges of that. I imagine.

Maxine Bryant:

yes, that's why we have these jobs. Someone has to deal with it.

Danu Poyner:

Exactly. And I really liked the clarity and simplicity, which you described that task and what was it? The three things, you know, things that we might be leading in, things that no one else is going to do. So we should do them, things that we do do or have done for a long time, but we don't necessarily need to keep doing. Are there any examples that come to mind of each of those categories to illustrate for someone who doesn't know?

Maxine Bryant:

There are things that we are world-leading in. So, our rumen microbiology, which I've already talked about. We're world leaders in that, we have the infrastructure and facilities to do work that people can't do anywhere else in the world. And part of that is because it's a combination of the facilities and also the people and the expertise that they have. We had people working with us from all over the world on things like that. So that's work we do because we are world-leading and we know it's really important. Then there are things that we do that no one else does, that we need to do. For example, we have animal containment facilities for containment and we have expertise around that. If there's ever issues Around animal infectious diseases, we have the people that can do that work and we have the appropriate containment so that you can study that. That's really important in terms of making sure that somewhere in the country has the ability to deal with problems like that if there's an issue that needs to be studied. And then in the middle, there's a whole lot of stuff that we do. Because of the kind of capability that we have, a lot of the time, it's a whole range of,

Danu Poyner:

your cats just really on the microphone.

Maxine Bryant:

sorry, she's just loving herself on the corner of the laptop. Um, and then in the middle we have a lot of stuff that is in between, and we have capability that is applicable to a wide range of science questions. You get down to questions about, so we might have protein capability or chemical chemistry capability, but we're looking to apply it to native plants. Is that our area or is that not our area? So if it comes down to using those native plants to feed animals and make the most of the special properties that those native plants might have, the net would fit into the forage or animal feeding area. But if it's about native plants and conservation, then that's not us. That would be Manaaki Whenua, for example. So sometimes it's not that straightforward. There are areas that we are investigating with other CRIs because no one really has clarity around who does it. There are areas where we will collaborate with other organizations. For example, working with Manaaki Whenua on environmental climate change issues, we would collaborate with them. Climate change, it's an area that no one organization owns it. We're all doing work that contributes to it in different ways. Is that a bad thing? Probably not because as a country, as a planet, most of us consider it to be the most pressing issue that we are facing. There's no reason why we wouldn't all be doing different bits of work that might contribute a piece of the puzzle to fix it. But it's about how we work well with each other to make sure that we are all doing the puzzle together. Not undoing someone else's to put your piece in.

Danu Poyner:

It sounds quite exciting trying to figure that out actually. Maybe it's exciting if you don't have to be in the middle of it everyday. I don't know. You me

Maxine Bryant:

Yeah. Yeah. I dunno. I guess life's like that isn't it?, you said earlier about, I like the way that you explain it simply. And sometimes I'm worried that I simplify things a lot, but if you don't, you get lost in the details. You need to have a very simple view of what's happening and then getting into more and more detailed depending on what you're doing and who you're talking with and what the issue is. The problem is sometimes if you get stuck down in the detail too much, then you can't see the big picture and you do get lost, you do lose the excitement a little bit. We all participate in science and organizations like this because we believe in what we're doing and we see value in it. It's a values based organization. It's not just showing up from nine to five and putting your timecard in and patching it out at the end of the day. You need to keep that focus really. So you don't get lost on the journey.

Danu Poyner:

I wonder out of 365 days a year, how many of them are, I'm really engaged with the mission of my organization days and feeling passionate and how many of them are just getting through the day days?

Maxine Bryant:

When I'm having a day like that, I always think of the Simpsons where Homer says, does it matter if you don't like your job, you just go there clock and do your job and go home. That's the American way. So I don't have jobs like that. I mean, Even when I worked at the supermarket as a teenager, I didn't really feel that way. Sometimes it's a hard job and some days you have bad days and sometimes you have good days and sometimes you hit both and you just need to keep that in perspective.

Danu Poyner:

I'd love to understand the path that has brought you to your current situation, because you really are doing a lot of very different kinds of things. There's a lot of skills and capabilities that go into that. I'm curious about that experience that you've built up and how you got to be doing what you're doing was research management, always plan A for you.

Maxine Bryant:

No, I don't think that's plan A for anybody. No one knows that's a thing. If I was being flippant, I'd say it's full of failed scientists, but that's not true. There are a lot of people with science backgrounds and they become disenfranchised with science and they see this other thing which plays to the skills that they have and it still keeps them in science. It is not something you aware of until you're in the science. And even as a post-graduate doing your PhD you don't necessarily know that that exists. I fell into it like many people. There was a project role being advertised to work on the PBRF performance-based research fund project in 2006. I got the job and that was the start of my research management career.

Danu Poyner:

Already working at the university at that time?

Maxine Bryant:

I had left university and gone to work as a life science specialist, sales person for a scientific supplies company. Didn't really ring my bell. I was looking for a job. I saw that at the university and, I applied and got the job.

Danu Poyner:

Can you draw me a line between working at the supermarket and that PBRF job?

Maxine Bryant:

That's quite a big line. I was a teenager when I went to the supermarket, that was my after school job. I kept doing that while I was studying so then I went to university and I was doing science degree. I wasn't super sure what I wanted to do. I just liked science. Then one of my lecturers wrote on my exam, please come and see me. And he said, oh, I guess you're going to do postgrad. And I'm like, no, I wasn't planning on it. He said, I really think you should consider it. That was the start of me moving into genetics. Before then I was just doing a general biology degree. Then I picked up some extra courses to do a double major and stayed, did honors, did a PhD, stopped working at the supermarket. While I was doing my postgrad and as I was finishing my PhD, one person from the sales company was talking to my associate supervisors saying, we're looking for someone in Christchurch. And he said, you should talk to Maxine. She's about to finish her PhD. So that's the job I got for a year. Then I was looking for opportunities. And I saw that job come up and I thought I'll apply for that. We actually applied for another job, which I didn't get in the research office. It worked out well for me. I got a different job in the research office. I was asked to apply for it. It was a fixed term role working on the PBRF. My role in that job was to look at the rules around staff eligibility, to participate in the PBRF process. Worked quite closely with HR to assist staff. That was really useful because it gives you a really good grounding in HR practices and how employment works and that sort of more data systems, background management aspect. When that finished, I moved into another role. The university was developing a researching profile website. So I managed that, did the business analysis stuff for that. Worked really closely with IT. And then from there took on a role looking after our IT systems that supported PBRF and the web site, and then ended up being the PBRF manager. Then after the 2012 PBRF we had a restructure and A new research services manager role was Created. And I got that job. The difference there was that I looked after PBRF systems and I took on pre and post award funding. Quite a big job, but was 2IC to the director in that research area. Then the director left and my role got elevated into associate director. I was doing that for a couple of years. And then, saw these jobs at AgResearch and thought, that would be a really interesting switch. I was quite keen for change. I had been here 15 years and it was a job that looked like it was really suited for my range of experience, but also as a CRI. So a bit different in being able to see how they worked differently to universities.

Danu Poyner:

Thanks for sharing that compressed story there. I have questions cause you kind of skimmed over doing, honors and a PhD, which is quite a commitment. And it sounded like if I heard right, that your interest in molecular genetics, which is what the PhD is in, was sparked by that conversation with the lecturer. Yeah. can you tell me about that?

Maxine Bryant:

That was our first exam in second-year genetics, which is the first year of actually specializing in genetics. It hadn't occurred to me that I could do that and that I was good at it before then. So it's amazing how those little experiences really change your life. I had gone on thinking I'd do conservation or work with animals or something vague and fluffy. Didn't really understand. It just seemed hard but it, wasn't hard. I'd done well on this exam and thelecturer said, you must be planning to do post-grad, but I hadn't even thought about that. It wasn't until then, then I thought that was something that was possible. Then I picked up some extra courses and they continued to go well. For a lot of people that's normal, you just go with the flow and you go, okay, I'll go do the next thing. People were telling me I can do that. So I'll do that. And I did do it.

Danu Poyner:

One of the things that I've liked to talk to people about on the podcast is the role of curiosity in how you move through life. It doesn't sound to me like curiosity is something you're consciously following here. But I don't know if there's something about molecular genetics that really rings your bell.

Maxine Bryant:

I don't know if I would be actively following curiosity. I'm a, probably more of a go with the flow kind of person, I just enjoy what I'm doing and I try and do things well, and then things come. And I'm open to whatever is happening. Maybe that's curiosity by stealth. I don't know. Um, I just find things interesting. And I pursue them. The second part of that question about molecular genetics, I guess, something that I really liked was how you can't see what's going on, but you deduce what's happening through your results. It's all inside the cell. It's abstract, but it's fascinating how you can design experiments and understand what's happening through your experimental design. Not only are you understanding how things work and how life has evolved. It's a detective story where you're looking at little bits of evidence and you're figuring out what's happened over time. My PhD was looking at characterizing the actin gene, family and pāua which is a Haliotis mollusk. Sea-ear is its common name. Anyway, so for me originally, that was more of a traditional science, molecular genetics project where you are pulling out the genes, sequencing them, figuring out how many they are looking at the translation and how they're working, how they're being expressed and what that means about how they work. But also part of it was looking at the molecular evolution. Applying phylogenetic techniques to understand what that can tell you about the evolution of the gene family, but also the evolution of animals. Because of course, mollusks are very far back in the evolutionary tree, we do a lot of work on mammals. We do a lot of work on invertebrates, like insects, but molluscs are largely overlooked for some reason. I just found that interesting.

Danu Poyner:

It sounds interesting. I'm really fascinated

Maxine Bryant:

it's probably really out of date now, this was 20 years ago.

Danu Poyner:

Fair enough. In your flippant response, before you, mentioned that people get disenfranchised with science sometimes. Is that something that happened to you?

Maxine Bryant:

Oh, absolutely. Not so much the science, but just the politics that goes with it. It's funny because now I'm, part of the politics. But It's not really the science, it's the organization, isn't it. I was doing my PhD. I didn't have an easy PhD because both of my parents died during the PhD. Um, and no, that's right. That's not your fault. There was that and then, just life and pāua really hard to work with. By the end of it, I didn't see myself going through that treadmill of life as a scientist. I just could see the drama and the politics within the department that I was in, and it was just that people, and this is no disrespect to those former colleagues, but they just worried about stuff that didn't really matter. I didn't want to be that person. So I left. One of the things that's great is that. I can just come in and see what people are doing and sprinkle some money here and then leave and go somewhere else. I can see the value of what they're doing. I can identify with their passion. I like to hear about what people are doing and how cool it is, but I don't have to do it. And I don't have to deal with that drama at the bench. But I guess I am part of what creates the drama for them now in my management leadership role. When you talk to scientists, they are so driven about what they do. I don't think I probably had that drive. The particular scientific question was just the thing I was working on it wasn't my life's mission. That's another thing which I know about myself. It's about understanding, what are the bits you like? So I like being organized. I liked, creating order. I liked doing a good job. I like being a team player, so I that's um, attributes and skills that suit for being a research management professional, when you're really about helping others have the glory. Right.

Danu Poyner:

It sounds like, you picked up the business side through doing, in these various projects and you picked up a little bit of project management here at business analysis here and leadership and HR stuff. Was there a formal aspect to that at any point?

Maxine Bryant:

I am a qualified project management professional, which means I am accredited with the project management Institute. I have had that formal project management training. I've had a range of on the job training on different things. So four-quadrant leadership, New Zealand, women in leadership training, which is something that the universities run. I've done some Institute of Directors courses as well. I think I'm conscientious person and I am also a give it a crack can do kind of person. I'm a Kiwi, so old school Kiwi. I look at it and think I'll give that a go. Um, I do get told off about that now a little bit from some of my staff, because I'm doing things for them and they're like, no, you shouldn't be doing that. And I'm like, but I want to do it because I just like, certain things I like doing like playing with spreadsheets and geeky, things like that. I guess it's about learning to let go of some of that more hands-on stuff and focus on that leadership

Danu Poyner:

Um, Were those kinds of credentials and things, something that you picked up in bit dribs and drabs by going through the flow, or is there a moment when you made a conscious decision to lean into that career track.

Maxine Bryant:

Not really. I've never had a very planned career, I got the job at the university cause I needed a job. And then other people said, you should apply for this job. You should apply for that job. I presume that's because I was conscientious and doing a good job. And they kept me. A lot of people in my office had already done a project management qualification. So one of our previous directors was really keen on that. I already knew that was a really useful thing to do based on the feedback from some of my colleagues. When you're in a job at a university like that, they do want you to be thinking about your development. So I did start doing some Institute of Director courses because I was in a Director role. I was a bit worried about the formal learning aspect of what I did. That's something that's ingrained into us that you're not validated until you've got the piece of paper, because of our, you go to university and then you'll be somebody sort of culture. Now it's more thinking about what is the most appropriate way that I can learn what I need to learn. And I guess it got to a point where it was like I did a course and I thought. That just explains everything I already know and just puts it into context. Then you get to that stage where you think actually I've got enough experience. Now it's really just about the mentoring or what you learned from others or thinking about yourself in the workplace and in thinking about how you behave and react. So never been particularly career driven, I don't really understand people that have these five and 10 year plans and I want to be doing X by then. I just want to be happy and feeling good about what I'm doing. It's probably not until this job where I've actually thought, wow, I've actually got some prospects. So now I'm like, wow, what should I be thinking about doing, where would I go now? Now I'm actually thinking that things were actually possible. Maybe I'm a slow learner.

Danu Poyner:

Well, it's interesting comment you make because when you look at your CV and your list of things, it doesn't sound like someone who doesn't have prospects. It

Maxine Bryant:

know, but you got to write that to get the job, don't you?

Danu Poyner:

you do, but you've also got to have the things

Maxine Bryant:

Yeah, yeah,

Danu Poyner:

do have the things.

Maxine Bryant:

I, yes, I don't know. The things just seem to happen. And when people say, don't say, no, don't say no. Thinking back to that lecturer and other points in my career, it's really down to other people, recognizing the ability in me. Before I even recognize it. I am a self-reflective person, but I don't reflect on myself in that way where I think I'm really good at that. And I should go do that now. I'm probably self reflective about how did that go? How should I have done that better? Or, I wish I knew that when I started. But I'm not thinking of that bigger picture. And I've relied on other people to say to me, you're good at that. You should do that. You should apply for that job. I'm lucky that I've had that. Cause a lot of people don't have the right people around them.

Danu Poyner:

Yeah, that's true. Is that a bit of old fashioned Kiwi modesty as well?

Maxine Bryant:

Probably, it's the girl thing as well. Women don't like to put themselves forward either, and a woman will only apply for job if she thinks she can do 80% of it, whereas the men will apply. If he thinks he can do 30% of it.

Danu Poyner:

Well, on that note then, you mentioned that you weren't necessarily driven by the science in science. I'm wondering if there's something that you particularly hang on to, that you care about in your leadership management practice on the business side of things. It seems to me that leadership and care stand out as quite as strong thread running through your story. And the way you go about the support that you provide in those roles. Is that a fair assessment?

Maxine Bryant:

Yes, I think so. I just want to be happy in what I'm doing. I want other people to be happy in what they're doing. It's like don't catastrophize everything. We spend so much time at work. We should be happy when we are there. We should try and be in a job that makes us happy. If you're not happy in the job you need to figure out how to get happy in the job and that's conversation I've had with people before. If you're not happy in your work, it will end up spilling over into the rest of your life. So either change what you do, change your attitude to what you are doing or do something else. The other thing is about thinking about the opportunities I've been given and the support I've been given by my managers and colleagues and wanting to do that for other people, I'm hoping for people to get the best out of themselves and work with good people. And do good things. Like I said, I don't overthink these things that much.

Danu Poyner:

Well, that can be quite a virtue at times,. Just get on with it a lot. A lot of the time you do strike me as that let's get on with it kind of person.

Maxine Bryant:

Yeah.

Danu Poyner:

Can you share something about your approach to leadership? Is it something that you reflect on or pursue in a conscious way? Or is it just something that comes out of you because of who you are?

Maxine Bryant:

I think it just comes out of me because of who I am. When I left my last job and came to this job, one of the great things about it was the chance to make a conscious effort to do things differently. I had been at the university for a long time. I was working with people I'd known for a really long time. I thought this is great. I'm going to come into this new organization. I'm going to try and do things differently. I'm going to have more professional relationships with people. I'm not going to get so personal and attached with people. I'm going to be more objective and it just doesn't happen. I can't help being friends with people I work with and,

Danu Poyner:

What a terrible quality.

Maxine Bryant:

know, but it makes it difficult. you know, When you're, you've worked with people you have a good working relationship with them, but you don't have a very personal relationship with them. My approach is that hopefully if I have good relationships with people, we'll be working together like a family, I guess, to do the things you need to do. I don't want this to come out to sound like I'm abusing that. But when you do have these good family relationships with people, you can ask them to do stuff that might be hard or a little bit bigger. You all pull together to help each other because you want to work together to get the job done. I don't expect that of them, but it just seems to happen and I don't make a conscious decision to take that approach. So that will happen. It's about being generous with your time and your thoughts and to help others. My very recent boss says, you just a natural instinctive leader. So just go with it, just trust your gut. And, some of that is it's relationship based leadership.

Danu Poyner:

Yeah. I'd certainly echo that. I've had the good fortune to work with you a little bit, not in your team, but from a distance. Yeah, I'm very struck by the way, that you build a culture around you of exactly that relationship based dynamic. It strikes me as rare because most of us work in quite transactional environments. I think it's very powerful and you're kind of apologizing for it in the way that you talk about it. And I just wanted to offer that maybe it's not something to apologize for. Maybe it's an amazing strength that other people are drawn to.

Maxine Bryant:

no, thank you. It's interesting, isn't it? Cause you start getting into that whole thing about, role models and what you expect and what normal looks like. It might not be what normal looked like to me growing up, what you saw on TV and in movies was that very hard arse authoritarian sort of approach, which I'm not, I would hope. But it's that feeling? Is this valid? This is the way I do it. Is this okay. I guess that's growing in its acceptance and it's that whole thing about diversity in the workplace. That people do things in different ways and they're not right or wrong. Some may be more effective than others, and it may depend on the circumstances, but I have had some really great managers along the way as well, who were very caring people. So shout out to you, people who know who you are. They helped reinforce that that's okay.

Danu Poyner:

That's nice. I think. And maybe you're at the point where people might be reaching out to you to give validation to some of the things that they're doing. Let me change tack a little bit then. And dig into this a little bit, I understand you, whakapapa to and please forgive my pronunciation here. Ngāti Kahungunu, am I getting

Maxine Bryant:

KA

Danu Poyner:

Kahungunu Kahungunu

Maxine Bryant:

Kahungunu Kahungunu. Yep.

Danu Poyner:

I'll practice. Is that something you'd like to talk about in terms of informing your path and perspective.

Maxine Bryant:

Yes, so I whakapapa to Ngāti Kahungunu. My mother was from a very small town in the north island called Mohaka. We never spent a lot of time there growing up. My parents were in the air force and they traveled around a lot. My dad retired from the air force the year I was born, which is why we settled in Christchurch, which was where his last posting was. I've come to realize that the influence of my mother and the way she was because of the experiences she had growing up as such a big part of who I am. That worldview and that way of being, it's just normal. That's just the way you are. If you're growing up, and you don't hang out with a lot of other Māori people, you don't necessarily see that as being Māori. And maybe if you hang out with a lot of Pākehā people, you just think you're a bit strange, but, I think now growing up, and talking with other people as an adult, it struck me that a lot of the way that I am and the way my sisters are is that is how mom raised us. And that was because of her being Māori and the way she was raised. That makes sense to me now and why we do these things the way we do, because that's just part of the practices that my mother had. I think if you start to look at, that relationship based leadership and wanting to look after others, that that's a big part of it, isn't it?

Danu Poyner:

I've Heard you talk about manaakitanga a few times. And that's, an interesting concept. I wonder if you could elaborate that

Maxine Bryant:

Yeah, manaakitanga is just caring for others. In the Māori world there are terms used to express particular principles. One of which is manaakitanga, uh, which is you try and look after others and whanaungatanga, which has to do with the relationships that people have. That's part of this caring for others and looking after others and wanting to provide hospitality and make other people feel comfortable. That was when I started to think, actually, that's probably why we are the way we are. And it helps put things in place. From my mother, she left home as a teenager to go and work in town a small town, not a city. but it's not like she really was. Understanding or knowledgeable or articulate about the culture either because she was a child and she was really young when she left. So it's not like she could really teach us in that way because she wasn't schooled in it. Also she was born at a time when it was discouraged. The view of her parents was, you should assimilate as much as you can cause that's the only way forward. It's not like it was actively something that she was given, which was a shame. It's a really sad thing, but it is what it is and that's just history. So we move on. I could probably talk a little bit about, for people that have worked with Māori organizations, you will know that building relationships with Māori organizations take a long time, particularly in science sectors. It's that classic thing that we have where scientists think I need to engage with Māori. Can I ring them up? Who can I talk to it's due next week? Can we sort it out? And that that's not a successful approach and I think people are learning now that they will work with you when they know you and they trust you and they like you, and they want to see that real relationship. Once that's in place, you're sorted and the rest will happen and they will fix it for you and you will be family. That's probably very similar to the way that I am. In terms of wanting to have relationships with people, wanting to feel a better connection, the other thing is though that, often I make those connections quite quickly. So In my mind, it's like, well, I've met you and I really like you. So let's fast forward that relationship. And I feel like we're at that stage. Then I go back and meet someone like a month later. It's like, we're starting over again. I guess for me, it's once I'm comfortable with someone and I feel like I know them, I'm jumped ahead in that relationship. And I think sometimes it can be confusing for other people.

Danu Poyner:

I'm not sure the best way to ask this, but I'm conscious that half the people who listen to this are not from New Zealand. So they're probably still stumbling on what whakapapa means. Can we explain that a little bit?

Maxine Bryant:

In its most basic terms, whakapapa is where you come from. It's like a family tree. But for Māori, it's much more, it's a really deep thing about your connection with your family and your place and where you're from. So normally when you do a formal greeting, you would normally run through your whakapapa and you would start with the land forms from, where you come from and start at the top and work your way down to who you are at the bottom. So it's recognizing the past. When you're meeting people, it helps people to form that connection, to understand who you are, where you're from. It gives them the cultural history of what you're likely to be like, who you might know, what history you've been through. Do I like those people? Do I not like them? We've had issues in the past. Um, my grandma's from there so you're my cousin. That's quite basic. But obviously for people who have a much stronger in to Te Ao Māori, the Māori World. They would be talking about lots of other details they would be bringing in different iwi affiliations, talking about particular well-known ancestors, and that helps people understand who you are and that they knew your grandmother or something

Danu Poyner:

Hm, I'd like to go a little bit deeper on this, if it's all right with you and say, I read this paper recently that talks about the pressures of cultural identity at work. And we started to talk a little bit about Māori science in particular there. And I think there, uh, A lot of expectations. And often those are expectations are in legislation around cultural engagement and treaty obligations. And this framework specifically for Maori science, vision matauranga, which is about science, as I understand it, that responds to the needs of Maori, as well as recognizing the, potential matauranga or Maori knowledge to create benefit for New Zealand. Given there's a relatively small number of Maori scientists and even smaller number of Maori science leaders, all these expectations can mean, that Maori scientists often find themselves, working a cultural double shift. Is that an idea that resonates with you?

Maxine Bryant:

I think so. So That is something that is problematic for our Maori scientists, because they are Maori and they are expected to give of their time and help others navigate the cultural landscape. If you're in a university, you've got to have Maori representation on committees. And if there's only five Maori people, then they have to try and make it work. Meanwhile, they spend most of their time trying to serve the needs of others without actually, doing their own work and serving their people, which is often what they're there to do. It's really hard. And the government, although they are putting these things in place to try and support it, which is awesome. It does put a lot of pressure on, not just Maori scientists, but Maori organizations. All these Maori organizations are being inundated by people, wanting to talk to them and get help from them. I heard someone speak once about that and saying, you come in, you want to take all of our knowledge and then take it away and give us nothing in return. So why would we want to do that? Helping, Pakeha understand that is useful, it's not just about putting the policy in place, it's about how you service the policy when you don't have enough people and capability or capacity to do that. Things like the national science challenges and the centers of research excellence, they all have to try and respond vision matauranga. So they're trying to find people with the right expertise to participate. They're putting a lot of responsibility on scientists who were really quite junior, but because they're Maori they are doing it, you've got one Maori scientist who just happens to be Maori and all of a sudden you are representing the whole race. Māori are probably getting better at asserting themselves and being clear about what they will engage with and what they won't and then adopting organizations or people that they work well with, who actually get it and understand what's in it for them and are not doing it for the wrong reasons; actually trying to do something better and trying to work in different ways rather than just tick the box to get the funding. There's been a real shift over the last 10 years in terms of how that's working, but we're also creating this problem and the fact that organizations that have enough resources to do this well, will end up getting that advantage. So they may have enough resources to have people to employ, to help facilitate it. They have resources to invest in relationship building and work of benefit to Maori, which means they will establish better relationships and that will help them do better. So, important that we avoid a sort of growing divide between the haves and the have nots in this space.

Danu Poyner:

yeah, it is a fascinating space and this is quite a hopeful space, but also there's a lot of potential for misfiring and unintended consequences and wrong intentions as well, I think. So it's just interesting to see that unfold. So thank you for engaging with the question. We've been talking for a long time, but I wanted to ask you how do you fill your cup? If you're doing so many different kinds of things and looking after so many people and holding so many things together all the time, what fills your cup?

Maxine Bryant:

I really just love sleeping. I've a reputation for being really big sleeper. I just really like having some time out. I'm in a busy job, I'm with people all the time and I like to just spend some quiet time on my own. Sometimes that's sleeping. Or reading or listening to an audio book? I like being here at my house in Golden Bay and being able to just enjoy being out in nature and just relaxing and quietening the mind is probably a way to put it. I dunno what do other people say to a question like this?

Danu Poyner:

All sorts of things. Similar things to what you said, a wide array of weird and wonderful creative pursuits.

Maxine Bryant:

I think if I wasn't so tired all the time, then I would probably enjoy doing creative things more, but Two days in the weekend is not really enough to wind down, get your weekend jobs done and then relax.

Danu Poyner:

Is there a, an experience you've had in research management that you're particularly proud of or would be happy for people to associate with you?

Maxine Bryant:

One of the things that I really liked was being on the board and speaking at the university of research office conference about what we do. Being able to talk to people about what that means and about their own careers and about where they might go. That's a really rewarding thing because the job in itself was just a job. It's when you can see that people look to you for advice that gives you that recognition and reinforcement. That you are doing something right, but you're also able to help others. That's like that feeling you're actually making a difference for somebody.

Danu Poyner:

That's nice feeling. Thank you for sharing that. Another thing I ask everyone who comes on the podcast and no one likes this question, but I'm gonna ask you anyway, which is, if you could gift someone, a life changing, learning experience, what would it be?

Maxine Bryant:

One of the things that I'm really keen on at the moment is getting people to change their jobs. That's something that I have been through recently and I've really enjoyed it. Right through that process of thinking, that's too big a job for me. I couldn't do that job. Oh my God. That's really scary. I don't want them doing, No, I think I could do it. I'll do it. I'll put in my application to actually going through the interview, reflecting on what you've done, what your skills are, and then getting the job and then recognizing how much you actually know when you go into another organization. Particularly when you've been in a place for so long, you lose sight of how much you've learned, how much you've grown, what you actually know. It's been such a positive experience for me and has taught me so much about myself and made me see myself in a whole new light and I've just been really happy. I would like to hope other people will do that and have a similar experience.

Danu Poyner:

Yeah. Thanks for that. I That's a great example. And it is really powerful and freeing when you realize what you do know and what you can do in a different context.

Maxine Bryant:

And you take control of your own. Destiny and you think, actually I want to go over there and I want to do that. And now I want to go over there and I want to do that. It just makes you think that other things are possible.

Danu Poyner:

The other thing I just wanted to check in on was when you're talking about the PhD, you

Maxine Bryant:

no.

Danu Poyner:

the appeal of that as being like a detective story and trying to fit it together and figure out, how it works. It sounds like that's what you're doing in this new-ish job that you have. It's also a bit of a detective story trying to figure out ag research. Is that a fair comparison?

Maxine Bryant:

I think so. I think The problem is when you want to do something and you don't have the right tools or the right environment to be able to do what you want to do. It's just where the organization is at and thinking about a longer term plan. Learning the pace of the organization that you're in and where they're at and where you want to get to, and how you manage that journey.

Danu Poyner:

If I had to sum up a lot of our conversation, it would be what you said before, which is, oh yeah. I'll give that a crack. And I liked that a lot. Is there something on the horizon that you're thinking, oh yeah, I'll give that a crack. Either at work or just in life.

Maxine Bryant:

Well, I'm about to go and try and change my toilet seat. So our toilet seat's broken, is it the kind of thing you want? I'll give that a crack? Building on that conversation about being on the senior leadership team, I'm going to give that a crack. That's pretty cool. It's just being. ready to take the next step up when you need to. At the beginning. I thought, how do they expect me to do that job? And now I'm like, well, I've done it before I can do it again. How much can I screw it up?

Danu Poyner:

Well, exactly. I think it's a very heady, and compelling mix of modesty and, unafraid ness that gets you into a lot of situations. It's very inspiring.

Maxine Bryant:

One of the reasons is because I don't want you to get someone else to come in here. And for me to be looking at them thinking, I could have done a better job than that what's that? Maybe I'm a bit of a control freak. You do see other people in jobs and you think, what are you doing? What are you delivering? What is your purpose? I just want to make sure that I'm not in that sort of space, Making sure that stuff can happen. The thing that you see needs to be done is getting done and that, sometimes the best way to do that is to do it yourself.

Danu Poyner:

I think that's a very fair point and probably a really good place for us to wrap up, Thank you so much. For sharing all of your wisdom and experience, with me today. I think there's a lot of great stuff in there and I really appreciate the openness and the candor of the conversation. And it's been a great pleasure. Thank you so much.

Maxine Bryant:

Thank you.