Feature

Girl power: Celebrating International Day of Women and Girls in science

10 Feb. 2024
Jane Palmer/AWC

February 11 is the UN International Day of Women and Girls in Science, a global celebration of the essential role played by women and girls in advancing knowledge, fostering innovation, and overcoming barriers in the ever-evolving world of science.

Here at AWC, we are inspired by the diverse journeys, groundbreaking discoveries, and unwavering dedication of our female scientists and their important contribution towards halting the decline of Australia’s threatened wildlife.

Today, as we celebrate the remarkable achievements and contributions made by women in the field of science, let’s meet a few of our female scientists from across the country…

Georgina Anderson, Senior Wildlife Ecologist
“As a Senior Field Ecologist, I oversee ecological monitoring and translocation programs at Mt Gibson Wildlife Sanctuary. Here, I manage the local science team, collaborate closely with the land management team, and assist with fieldwork at AWC’s other sanctuaries in the southwest (Paruna, Karakamia and Faure Island).

“A recent highlight was the successful reintroduction of Chuditch (Western Quolls) to Mt Gibson. One night I had to trap a female quoll who was several kilometres into the bush to check on her health and radio collar fit. After a late-night bush bash, it was a nice surprise to find she had decided to go into the trap, but most excitingly she also had pouch young that were big enough to be furred and showing spots. I’d been waiting years for that moment, and it was so special to get to this milestone after so many years of planning and a very busy year of pulling the translocation off.”

Senior Field Ecologist, Georgina Anderson, Releasing A Woylie (brush Tailed Bettong Bettongia Penicillata) At Mt Gibson Wildlife Sanctuary, WA. Jane Palmer/AWC
Senior Field Ecologist, Georgina Anderson, Releasing A Woylie (brush Tailed Bettong Bettongia Penicillata) At Mt Gibson Wildlife Sanctuary, WA.

“There are so many parts of the job that I love, but a perfect day would be spent finding Numbats to collect genetic samples in the morning – followed by an afternoon pulling together spreadsheets worth of trapping data to create the perfect database.

“Another major part of this job that I love is the team I work with – an incredible group of enthusiastic conservationists (who are mostly women!). It is very empowering to be working with and learning from strong, supportive women, and I’m very appreciative that I work in a country, industry, and organisation where I don’t have to think about my gender when it comes to my career.

“A career in science is certainly not for everyone, particularly in a field ecology role where you have to be prepared for, and perhaps even excited about, the prospect of walking through thick bush in summer heat to fetch a remote camera, or getting up a 2am to trap mammals, or flicking through tens of thousands of false trigger images from a remote camera. But science as a whole is such an exciting field with a huge amount of diversity in the different jobs you can do!”

 

Aliesha Dodson, Field Ecologist
“I currently work as a field ecologist, based at Newhaven Wildlife Sanctuary in central Australia, and work in a small team that is responsible for the wildlife translocations and eco-health monitoring across the sanctuary.

“The most exciting part of my job, and what I love the most, is being able to work with some incredible threatened species which not everyone has the opportunity to do so or even has the opportunity to see these animals in the wild.

“I have had so many memorable moments in the field, but a definite highlight has been being a part of the wildlife translocations at Newhaven. So far, we have reintroduced seven species into Newhaven’s 9,450ha feral-proof fenced area – and it is amazing to see these species being returned to their former ranges especially when some of these species have not been recorded in central Australia for over 70 years.

Field Ecologist Aliesha Dodson With A Greater Bilby (macrotis Lagotis) At Newhaven Wildlife Sanctuary, Nt Brad Leue/AWC
Field ecologist Aliesha Dodson with a Greater Bilby (Macrotis lagotis) at Newhaven Wildlife Sanctuary, NT.

“It’s incredible being a part of the whole process of releasing them, monitoring the populations afterwards, and seeing the species establish and breed in their new home. This was especially true for our Greater Bilby reintroduction as it is a species I heard about a lot when I was growing up and being able to do something to help protect this species is incredible.

“I definitely would recommend a career in science. It’s a lot of hard work and sometimes long hours but it is very rewarding and totally worth it especially if you are passionate about it.  I am pretty lucky that through my career and at university I have also had strong women role models and have never felt my gender to cause an issue. My generation has been fortunate that other women before us paved their way as female scientists to make it a common occurrence today.

“My advice for women looking to work in science would be to volunteer. Volunteering is a great way to learn new skills, have some amazing experiences – and allows you to start making connections in your field of interest.”

 

Melissa Christi, Field Ecologist

“While usually based at the uniquely beautiful Mount Zero-Taravale Wildlife Sanctuary, my role as a field ecologist in the north-east region allows me to assist with fieldwork across the different properties and partnerships we have in Queensland. I love that every week is different. Having a job that requires a varied skill set and takes you into some of the wildest, most wonderful parts of Australia, is incredibly special.

“There are so many wonderful field-based moments that make up the mosaic of memories I have with AWC, it’s hard to pick just one! A stand-out to me would be getting to release one of the founders of the new population of Northern Bettongs at Mount Zero-Taravale. Being part of such a huge team dedicated to saving Northern Bettongs from extinction is a precious memory I’ll cherish forever. It’s shown me that we really can turn the tide of the extinction crisis around; all we need is passionate people.

“I would absolutely recommend a career in science. There is something for everyone. The thing about science is that it is constantly evolving, and every year there are more ground-breaking advances to improve our lives and the world around us. Being part of that process is incredibly rewarding.”

Field Ecologist Melissa Christi Setting A Camera Trap Device To Monitor Wildlife On Sanctuary
Field ecologist Melissa Christi setting a camera trap device to monitor wildlife on sanctuary.

“While I do feel that there is a still a gender disparity in STEM, but it’s not immediately obvious these days. It’s incredible to see so many women in STEM fields during Uni, but as time goes on and careers develop, those numbers tend to dwindle. It’s still hard to see a 50-50 mix of men and women in senior roles across most fields, as Australian society still struggles to support parents as they navigate raising children and maintaining a career.

“In my experience, however, my issue when entering STEM fields hasn’t been my gender but my deafness. An accident when I was a child left me with bilateral sensorineural hearing loss, and since then I’ve been pushing the boundaries of what I know I can do, and what society thinks I can do. I’m very grateful to currently work with a team of people who are incredibly supportive, and continually encourage me to reach my full potential.

“My advice to others, regardless of ability or gender, is that where there’s a will, there’s a way! It’s okay to explore alternative pathways to achieve your goals, or to forge a new path entirely.”

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