STEMM Student Profile: Katrina Dickson | PhD Student | Invasive Animals CRC | University of New England | Armidale | NSW
“I hope to see gender diversity leading to increased systems thinking, creativity and innovation; more motivating and satisfying workplaces; and the capacity to meet the challenges that our planet is currently facing”
I graduated with a Bachelor of Rural Science (Honours) and a Post Graduate Diploma in Agricultural Economics in the 1980’s. I completed a Master of Business Administration (MBA) in 2012, where my major interests were organisational behaviour, leadership and strategic management. My other qualifications include a Post Graduate Certificate in Sustainable Agriculture and Certificate IV in Project Management.
I have been involved in natural resource management and agriculture for much of my life, and have lived on a dryland cropping and grazing farm in North West NSW for the past seventeen years. I have had professional roles in agronomy and agricultural business consulting, and worked as Executive Officer for Liverpool Plains Land Management Committee, and Namoi Regional Organisation of Councils. My additional interests include travelling, yoga, skiing, walking, nature and personal development.
About my research: As part of the Invasive Animals CRC, I am researching how public sector and not-for-profit natural resource management (NRM) work units may apply organisational learning principles to improve the ways in which people adapt and transform their operations. This is particularly important as these organisations are faced with rapid change, heightened community expectations and declining resources.
Invasive animal problems and their impacts are on-going. While technical solutions such as baiting, trapping and aerial shooting have advanced, these are not entirely curtailing the problem. My PhD is part of a program focussing on the ‘human dimensions’ aspects of invasive animal control, applying social science concepts to community engagement. While I am based in the University of New England’s Law School, my research is trans-disciplinary, with concepts drawn from a range of disciplines including business management, psychology, education, public policy and natural resource management.
Case studies conducted in 2015 provided valuable information regarding the enablers of and barriers to organisational learning in a major conservation agency in South Africa. This research was funded by the Keith and Dorothy MacKay Travelling Scholarship, the Invasive Animal CRC and supported by the University of New England and South African National Parks. The aim of my research is to make suggestions as to how NRM work units responsible for invasive animal control may become learning organisations, through embedding appropriate leadership, cultures, structures, vision, strategies and processes, and thereby continually improve what they do.
How have your academic interests changed during your time at university?
At the time, my undergraduate degree in Rural Science was based on my interest in the biophysical aspects of agriculture, and especially ruminant nutrition and physiology. While studying for an MBA I became particularly interested in organisational behaviour. This led me to my current enrolment, a PhD based on social science, with my present research in people being a significant change from my former interests in cattle!
What has been the highlight of your studies so far?
The highlight of my studies is being able to combine all of my skills and experience in biophysical science with my current interests in organisational behaviour. I have done additional learning in coaching, facilitation, leadership, gender and neuroscience. Being able to integrate this knowledge into my PhD research and my personal and professional interactions is immensely satisfying.
What motivated you to choose your degree?
The main factors in me choosing my PhD were the ability to follow my growing interests in human and organisational behaviour; to fill a major research gap, that is, organisational learning in the public sector, and in relation to my personal, to be able to continue the important role as mother to two teenage children.
What do you think the next generation of (female) scientists can look forward to?
Workplace changes are allowing greater flexibility, meaning that female as well as male scientists can look forward to more balanced integration of personal and professional lives. Women tend to have different ways of thinking and operating from men, and can offer alternative perspectives. I hope to see gender diversity leading to increased systems thinking, creativity and innovation; more motivating and satisfying workplaces; and the capacity to meet the challenges that our planet is currently facing.
What attracted you to your chosen field of study?
I was attracted to my chosen field of study for several reasons. Firstly, my research aligns with my passion for growing my understanding of human behaviour. Secondly, this research is trans-disciplinary and has the elements of freedom in which I thrive. Thirdly, my research is qualitative, with interviews and observation allowing me to gain a deep understanding of the relevant concepts. Fourthly, it is allowing me to build global networks which are enabling global information sharing which I find invigorating.
[Image attribution: K Dickson]