Sue Carthew

STEMM PROFILE: Professor Sue Carthew | Pro-Vice Chancellor, Faculty of Engineering, Health, Science and the Environment | Charles Darwin University | Darwin | NT

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Professor Sue Carthew

“If you have passion and motivation you will succeed and you will find ways of overcoming hurdles along the way – as long as you also work hard at it”

Professor Sue Carthew is Pro-Vice Chancellor of the Faculty of Engineering, Health, Science and the Environment at Charles Darwin University, a position she has held since early 2012. She was a teaching/research academic before becoming Head of the School of Earth & Environmental Sciences (2007-2011), and Head of Discipline of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (2004-2006) at the University of Adelaide.

Sue has combined her interest in academic leadership with a passion for research and research training during her career. With a BSc and a PhD in Ecology from the University of Wollongong, she has a long-standing fascination for conservation biology and wildlife ecology, with interest in understanding ecological and genetic impacts of habitat fragmentation, particularly for iconic mammals such as arboreal marsupials and dasyurids. She has also studied the role of small mammals as pollinating agents. Sue has had a sustained involvement in mentoring students, having supervised >50 Honours and PhD students to successful completion in the past 20 years. While she stresses the importance of publishing research results in the scientific literature, Sue also believes in the importance of communicating science. To that end she has sustained significant (print, TV, radio, internet) media interest in her work and was recently engaged in a successful crowdfunding campaign to highlight the discovery of a new species of gliding marsupial in northern Australia.

Sue has also been active in biodiversity conservation in Australia more broadly, and has played a role in environmental decision-making and policy development through membership of various government and non-government boards and committees, and invited participation in expert working groups with external stakeholder organisations. She also believes in the importance of forging links with industry and government, and has been awarded industry and government funding for basic and applied research from a wide range of organisations.

Sue is married with two children, both of whom are now studying at University. A very busy work life doesn’t leave a lot of time for outside interests, but Sue loves to travel and explore new places, meet new people, and spend time in the Australian bush.

What do you think is the most important character trait in a successful scientist?

I think being curious is critical – that underlying drive to ask ‘why’ and ‘how’; the desire to want to know and understand how things or systems work.

What is the one piece of advice you would give to women just starting their careers in science?

Go with your passion – my parents brought me up to believe I could do whatever I aspired to if I put my mind to it, and I think that was great advice and something I have always adhered to and tried to engender in my children. If you have passion and motivation you will succeed and you will find ways of overcoming hurdles along the way – as long as you also work hard at it. 

What have you learnt during your career to increase your resilience?

Not to panic when feeling overwhelmed by the myriad of things that need to be done! It just wastes time and energy – much better to work through what you can and accept you just can’t do everything or be everything to everyone. Sleep and time-out are also incredibly important for maintaining stamina and resilience.

What are you most proud of in your science career?

The opportunity to mentor higher degree research (HDR) students and help them on their journey as they become researchers, successfully complete their studies and go on to great and diverse careers. I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of working with many amazing HDR students through my career – many of them women, and many of them successfully juggling incredibly challenging projects while dealing with complex and demanding personal lives. I am very proud of their achievements and my part in their journeys.

What do you believe are the greatest attributes of a successful leader?

I think a successful leader is someone who is decisive, strives to influence positively and by example, and who works to encourage, motivate and inspire others to excellence and engender a shared (and clear) sense of direction.

Follow Sue on Twitter: @DrsueC