Interview with Harriet Hunt: Plant sciences, Post-Glacial Climate Change, and the Human Past


What is the first word that comes to your mind when you think of Cambridge and why?

Love-hate relationship! There are obviously many wonderful things about Cambridge but I’ve been here a very long time now and wish I had more diversity of living and working experience.

What was your path to your postdoc at Cambridge?

I did a BA in Plant Sciences in Cambridge, just across the courtyard from the McDonald Institute. Then I did a PhD at the Natural History Museum in London with Dr Johannes Vogel. Towards the end of that, I got in touch with Prof Martin Jones, who took a chance on offering me a short-term contract, and we’ve been fairly successful in getting several major projects funded since then, including the current Leverhulme one on Crops, Pollinators and People.

Can you tell us a little about you, and your research interests? What drew you to archaeogenetics?

I have always been interested primarily in the evolution of plants and their genomic diversity at both the chromosomal and DNA sequence levels. For my PhD, I researched these patterns in a group of Mediterranean rock ferns in relation to postglacial climate change. I’ve always had a broader range of interests in the human past too, and wanted to move into exploring these same processes in cultivated plants. It’s fascinating relating the biological diversity to both natural factors and those imposed by human societies across a huge range of cultures.

I googled you to find your Cambridge webpage, and discovered that you are a chess player and four-time British Ladies’ Champion. Can you tell us about your chess career? Does it intersect with your career in archaeology in any way?
I didn’t realise it at the time, but the chess career was largely over by the time I started in archaeology. I tried to revive it recently but with very depressing results. Actually I find it quite embarrassing being defined by the things I did 20 or more years ago which I can no longer live up to and have little relevance to my work or domestic life now. I had over 10 years of amazing experiences involving a lot of travel – I think I’ve played chess in more than 30 countries and this definitely set me up with perspectives on international work and travel which directly feed in to my research outlook and activities.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

Interact with our two children. ‘Like’ is not quite the right word as interacting with small irrational people has highs and lows, but it occupies all the spare time anyway!



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