“I always knew I wanted to a PhD, but never felt ready. … I realised I just had to make a start on something I am interested in and feel is worthwhile”
Having submitted my PhD thesis for examination in early July, I’m currently in limbo while I wait for the outcome. Doing a PhD has been one of the highlights of my research career, which began on the Great Barrier Reef in the mid-1990s. Back then, I knew I wanted to combine my social science research training at James Cook University with my interest in environmental impact and management issues.
After working for the CRC Reef Research Centre, I shifted to New Zealand where I worked as a consultant since there were no full-time jobs in my field. Taking this risk paid off as I ended up working on many interesting projects for organisations such as Landcare Research, the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA), and Lincoln University, which spurred my interest in science communication. Two significant grants from the Royal Society of New Zealand and the Brian Mason Scientific & Technical Trust enabled me to work with a team of movie and television professionals to create a feature-length children’s science video and activity book.
Following that, I put my career on pause to have a family, which turned into eight years ‘off’ research doing one of the toughest jobs I’ve ever encountered! Once my youngest started primary school I began my PhD on marine science communication. It has been a rollercoaster ride, and I have loved it, but I wouldn’t have started it without the strong encouragement from some amazing women in my life.
What made you decide to undertake (further) studies in your area?
I recalibrated my priorities following the Christchurch earthquakes. I always knew I wanted to a PhD, but never felt ready. There’s never a ‘good time’ to do something like this, but I realised I just had to make a start on something I am interested in and feel is worthwhile.
If you have worked in industry before, how do you compare postgraduate life to working life?
It’s luxury! Having the time to really think about one project in great depth felt like an indulgence. I tried to really appreciate it since I know what it will be like on the other side, trying to manage multiple projects.
What has been the biggest challenge of your studies so far?
Having the backup on technical aspects of my research. Part of the challenge working in a multidisciplinary environment has meant there was no one close by who could provide assistance with advanced stats, theory etc. I had to reach out to others – fortunately I found some generous informal advisors!
How important are female role models to you?
They are essential. Most of us are surrounded by more males than females, and we all bring different perspectives to research. However, the greatest support and encouragement has always come from other females and I’ll always be grateful for that (especially support from my external supervisor, Dr Gretta Pecl!).
Do you experience `imposter syndrome’? How do you deal with it?
Absolutely! Especially after having a long break from research. I take a good look at the people around me, and realise I’m OK. In the end, you just have to do your best. You’ve been selected for a reason – it pays to remind yourself of this.
[Image attribution: Terry Brown]