STEMM PROFILE: Mary Mackay | PhD Student | University of Tasmania | Hobart | TAS

My research: investigating the addition of behavioural incentives to enhance traditional economic measures to improve compliance of local recreational fishermen. Its aim is to reduce management costs, improve marine resource sustainability and to assist in marine conservation in general.

Mary Mackay

“… I am grateful to be part of something larger than me, to be able to develop the understanding and build upon it”

I am a first year PhD student at the University of Tasmania enrolled in The Tasmanian School of Business and Economics and working within the Centre for Marine Socio-Ecology in Hobart.

After completing a try-dive during my gap year, my ocean interests were secured and my focus switched towards environmental conservation. I deferred my studies and went on to become a dive instructor, taking me all around the world, and I´ve been lucky enough to work and dive in some of the planet’s most beautiful locations – Fiji, Indonesia, Malta, Tobago, as well as colder waters in Scotland, Canada and Norway!

I returned to Scotland to study my undergrad at the University of St Andrews and completed a joint degree in Environmental Biology and Geography, with a year abroad studying at the University of Toronto. I followed this with a Masters in Marine Systems and Policies at the University of Edinburgh. The highlights of my studies thus far have been opportunities to focus on my own research. For the majority of my undergrad, I was confident that I would not continue into academia but in completing my undergrad thesis, dedicating time and energy to my own original research, I was hooked! For my Masters thesis, I was one of five students awarded funding from the university to work with an NGO to conduct pertinent research. I travelled to Sri Lanka and worked with the national fisheries there, looking at conflicts in small scale fisheries.

Mary with NAFSO colleagues in Sri Lanka

How have your academic interests changed during your time at university?

My first application to university was for a degree in Anthropology and International Relations, but after I started diving I became interested in the marine environment. After completing my Bachelor of Science and Masters of Science degrees, I realised that I was still interested in people and governing relations but now, more focused towards relations between people and their surroundings.

Why did you choose science?

Science excited me as I thought it was going to keep me outside or in the water after my time spent working in the ocean. This excitement has developed a lot (and is still developing!) and now I am grateful to be part of something larger than me, to be able to develop the understanding and build upon it.

Do you experience `imposter syndrome’? How do you deal with it?

Definitely. I think I was even more aware of it after moving into a discipline that was so new to me. I think in order to deal with it, you have to listen to the people around you who are also excited about your project and to seek comfort and confidence in that.

As a woman, early in the STEMM pipeline, has your experience been positive, or has it had some negative aspects?

I presented my Masters thesis at several conferences and often, male researchers made comments about the success of the work due to it having been conducted by a young, white woman. Intentional or not, their comments insinuated that my project success was not attributed to the hard work that I put in to my project (!).

How important are female role models to you?

Within each of my individual research projects I have worked with impressive female scientists. Having strong female role models has quickly become my norm and I have been shown how possible it is to be a successful female head of school, course director and supervisor.  

[Image attributions: Cancer Care Tasmania and NAFSO, Sri Lanka]

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