Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum of Natural History
Hidden Dragons: protecting fossils for future generations

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Adele is a research associate at the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum of Natural History and PhD student at Swinburne University of Technology. Her research focuses on pterosaurs, a group of flying reptiles that lived during the age of dinosaurs. Before starting her PhD in 2017, fewer than 20 pterosaur bones had been described from Australia, with only two nominal species. In 2019, she named a new species of pterosaur, Ferrodraco lentoni, the third Australian pterosaur, with all named species coming from western Queensland. To date, Ferrodraco lentoni is the most complete Australian pterosaur, with a total of 30 bones preserved, or 10% of the skeleton. Adele is also actively researching new pterosaur specimens at Kronosaurus Korner in Richmond, Queensland and involved with outreach projects which focus on science communication. While palaeontology is her passion, Adele also helps run a 13,000 ha sheep and cattle station 100km outside of Winton.

BENEFIT – A description of the benefit of your work to Queensland (max 500 words)

The continued operation of small regional museums in western Queensland provides equal opportunities for children from regional Australia, particularly those of lower socioeconomic status, to experience some of Australia’s most exciting fossils. Since the announcement of Ferrodraco lentoni, the most complete Australian pterosaur in 2019, the specimen has been on permanent public display at the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum of Natural History. Ferrodraco is one of several significant fossil specimens at the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum including Australovenator wintonensis, Australia’s most-complete carnivorous dinosaur, and bones from the large sauropod species Savannasaurus elliottorum and Diamantinasaurus matildae. The announcement of Ferrodraco garnered worldwide media attention, with the discovery featured by notables such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, Australian Geographic, BBC, CNN, Fox News, and Smithsonian Magazine, among many others. During this time, I also spoke directly with journalists from National Geographic, BBC Science, the ABC, The Guardian and The Brisbane Times discussing the scientific value of fossils found in Queensland. 

The exhibition of Ferrodraco lentoni alongside some of the most spectacular fossils in Queensland is a boon for science, education and regional tourism. Although drought has continued to ravage western Queensland, and the tourism industry has been negatively impacted by forced closures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum continues to draw visitors to the outback. Indeed, during the 2019-2020 financial year the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum welcomed more than 50,000 visitors across the two sites it manages. The socioeconomic benefits of paleo tourism not only benefits Winton, but neighbouring towns in western Queensland, particularly Richmond and Hughenden, with both towns hosting tourism attractions as part of the Australian Dinosaur Trail.

ROLE MODEL – Why do you think you are a good role model for women and girls aspiring to work in STEM? (max 500 words)

Like other sub-disciplines within STEM, palaeontology has historically excluded and discounted the valuable contributions of women and people of colour. As a woman of colour, I hope that I can inspire the next generation of women in STEM and be living proof that with hard work and determination, a career in palaeontology can become a reality. I also hope to be part of a cultural shift, in which palaeontology becomes more inclusive. I hope to achieve this through working collaboratively with other young women and people of colour in adjacent fields such as chemistry, biology, engineering and archaeology for a more holistic and integrated approach to studying palaeontology. Unlike many other STEM professionals, I also live and work in western Queensland on a remote sheep and cattle station more than 100km from the nearest town. 

Although I did not grow up in a regional community, living and working in rural western Queensland has been life changing and propelled my career to heights I never thought possible. Working directly with small regional museums including the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum of Natural History, a not-for-profit organisation, has been invaluable; however, my work would not be possible without support from my supervisors and online resources. As online learning becomes increasingly common, I want to show students that completing Year 12, a Bachelors Degree or PhD off-campus, while simultaneously living and working in a remote area is a possibility. I am equally determined to show students of all ages, particularly those who are from regional and remote areas that with hard work and perseverance they too can become a world expert in their field. While most women in STEM are based in major cities, it is not uncommon, especially for those studying biology to conduct fieldwork in regional or remote areas. By sharing my experiences as a working scientist living in the bush, I hope that I can also convince other women that they can have a fulfilling career in STEM without living in a major city. Although I have had many wonderful opportunities as a palaeontologist living in western Queensland, my academic journey has not always been seamless.

It is easy to assume that professionals, particularly those in STEM, sailed through school without any real effort or struggle. However, before moving to western Queensland, I found securing a PhD project extremely difficult, as many potential supervisors considered my grades sub-standard. Not every student can be top of the class, but every student has untapped potential. It is our duty as science communicators and educators to unlock that potential, and bring out the best in the students we teach and mentor. Doing so in an effective manner might mean sharing with other women and young girls that we too have received countless rejections and stumbled along our academic journey. I know my story will resonate with students of all ages, and hope that it will remind others to never give up in the face of adversity, and find creative solutions to their problems.

ENGAGEMENT – Describe any STEM promotion or engagement activities that you have undertaken, including both scientific and non-scientific audiences, particularly with women and girls (maximum 500 words)

Thanks to the exposure resulting from naming Ferrodraco, I have been invited to speak at schools about my research and volunteer work with the Australian Age of Dinosaurs. In 2019 I accompanied the Australian Age of Dinosaurs’ Education Coordinator and visited several school in Charters Towers, including Charters Towers State High School, Blackheath & Thornburgh College, All Souls St Gabriels School and Columba Catholic College. At each school we discussed our roles with the museum and participated in the careers expo hosted at Blackheath & Thornburgh College.

More recently, I was invited to speak at the Women of the World (WOW) Festival in Longreach, coinciding with International Women’s Day, and Queensland Women’s Week. This included speaking at two panel sessions, WOW Bites and The Future is Ours, with the latter discussing current issues facing the next generation of women and girls. During the WOW Bites session, I talked about my academic journey and the wonderful opportunities available to young women in western Queensland, in the hope that it might inspire others to study STEM. In addition to speaking as a panel member during the WOW Festival, I was also part of the Speed Mentoring session, which connected speakers with young girls from Longreach State High School. In addition to sharing my WOW Bites presentation online, my involvement with the WOW Festival extends beyond International Women’s Day. In June this year, my portrait will be included in the WOW Portrait Exhibition, curated by photographer Jody Haines at the Brisbane Powerhouse, highlighting the lives and work of women and girls in Queensland. While I am passionate about public speaking, I am a firm believer that STEM professionals should also be effective science communicators, writing both technical works as well as popular articles. 

I have regularly contributed popular science articles to the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum of Natural History Annual publication since 2017, discussing recent advancements in dinosaur paleontology, as well as my own research on pterosaurs. I have also contributed articles to the Dinosaur Dreaming Field Report, a Melbourne Museum publication for palaeontologists and citizen scientists alike, as well as articles for The Conversation. 

In addition to writing peer-reviewed and popular science articles, I am also passionate about sharing my work through audio and visual media. In 2020 I was the Swinburne University of Technology Three-Minute-Thesis (3MT) Runner-Up and a 2021 FameLab semi-finalist. I have made multiple appearances on 3CR Community Radio as part of Lost in Science, including a guest interview on International Women's Day in 2021. I have also featured on several STEM podcasts, including I Know Dino, Paleocast and Beyond Blathers, and as a result have been able to share my knowledge on dinosaurs, pterosaurs and the politics of researching Burmese amber with an international audience.