Postcard from Antarctica

Published 07 February 2019

Two UNE academics recently returned from a life changing journey to Antarctica, an experience they shared with women from 26 different countries.

Dr Mary McMillan, Lecturer in Biomedical Sciences, and Dr Debbie Bower, Lecturer in Ecosystem Rehabilitation, were part of the annual Homeward Bound leadership project – an initiative that aims to heighten the influence of women making decisions that shape our planet.

Both returned home to Armidale with deeper self-knowledge, and an understanding of shared professional experience.

For Mary it was predominately a journey of rediscovery, with time and opportunity to focus on herself.

“In order to lead others you need to know yourself – your vision and values, what you want to achieve, your strengths and weaknesses. It wasn’t a program about learning to be a better scientist, it was a program about learning to be a better leader through understanding yourself. Of how to be a better and more visible role model to others.”

What stood out for Debbie is that women in science are stronger together and only with collaboration will they overcome the gender bias in leadership and be able to tackle current day issues such as the climate crisis - a strong theme on the voyage.

“The remoteness of the voyage led to strong connections among our cohort and a chance to share our personal stories. As women in science, many of us shared similar challenges in the workplace and this has created a strong motivation to level the playing field for the next generation.”

Next week Monday is International Day of Women and Girls in Science. Mary and Debbie are actively promoting science for women so that everyone knows how useful and fun it can be, so that the next generation grow up seeing female role models wearing lab coats and khaki, having adventures and solving mysteries.

They also have a strong message for girls and students contemplating study or a career in STEM.

From Mary: “For school students I would say take the route that will make you happy and is more likely to get you where you want to go. Don’t do the thing that all your friends are doing.”

“Students should take all the opportunities that university and life can throw at them. It’s not just about study for exams and getting good marks, there a lot other experiences you can get alongside your degree. Get involved with things that will set you apart from everyone else with the same degree right from the start.”

From Debbie: “I was disillusioned as a teenager and I didn’t even know that ecology existed as a profession. I didn’t get good grades or take the right subjects in high school. I have learned that there are many different pathways to science and if you are a curious person, you shouldn’t let the system hold you back.”

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