Highly Commended Award

Fisheries Scientist
Plenty of fish in the sea? Using mathematics to save the ocean, educate, and communicate with the masses.

Are you eligible for Breaking Barriers Category:

SUMMARY

There are three prongs to my work: mathematics, teaching, and science communication. 

I am a Fisheries Scientist, meaning I use mathematics to make sure we don’t take too many fish out of the ocean. I develop population models for wild fish species in the Great Barrier Reef to ensure fishing levels are sustainable, and to assess how these fish populations will respond to different management procedures. I work with large datasets on catch, biology, environmental conditions and economics, and collaborate with experts across many STEM fields.

Since I was 20, I have continuously worked part-time as a university STEM tutor and lecturer, and as a private tutor and mentor to female and non-binary high school students. 

I’m passionate about making STEM exciting, engaging and accessible to the public. As a side project to my paid work, I am building my online and physical presence as a science communicator. 

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

As Queenslanders, we have one of the world's richest and most complex natural ecosystems on our doorstep: the Great Barrier Reef. The Reef is iconic as Queensland’s most important attraction, and is of vital significance to our preservation and understanding of our natural world. Billions of dollars are involved in the research, fishing and tourism of the Great Barrier Reef. 

The Great Barrier Reef is incredibly fragile and at great risk of destruction. One of the many threats to the Reef is overfishing. Overfishing can lead to species extinction and imbalance in the delicate ecosystem; threatening biodiversity, livelihoods, communities and food security.

That's where my work comes in. My work with Fisheries Queensland lets me peer into rich datasets to tell the story of what's happening underwater. My work contributes to the delicate balance between the needs of people and the natural environment. My work ensures food stays on the plates of many Queenslanders, jobs are secured for thousands of Queensland fishers, and our reef is protected from damaging levels of fishing. My work is part of the Queensland Sustainable Fisheries Strategy, the biggest fisheries reform in Queensland’s history, which is paving the way for a world-class fisheries management system.

In my first year with Fisheries Queensland, I streamlined and documented many facets of the stock assessment process: from obtaining data, storing and sharing code, and generating accurate reports. This means our workflow is more accurate, repeatable, transparent, and efficient. My team now has the resources to deliver more for Queenslanders by tackling larger problems, assessing more species, and delivering the most correct and well-communicated results. 

Since advancing in my role, I have authored stock assessments on five species. I am now able to research cutting-edge practices that ensure Queensland fisheries are being assessed using world-class science and modeling frameworks. I am able to contribute to the scientific methodology we use, and communicate our findings to stakeholders and the general public in a way that builds trust in our work and support for our stock assessment program. 

As a Queenslander, I feel we have a responsibility to protect the natural wonder in our backyard, and my work is the best way I know how! 

The benefits of my work in education are more apparent: I make Queenslanders smarter. My science communication outreach aims to bring in young and/or curious minds into STEM study. Once they’re in, I help students gain the understanding and intuition they need to thrive in their STEM fields. My pedagogical mission is to remove the stigma associated with mathematics and other STEM subjects. I carry myself as an attentive, communicative, caring and inspiring educator, and ensure that—as long as they are willing to work—no student gets left behind. I pride myself on the lasting impression I leave on my students, exemplified by the positive feedback and letters of gratitude I receive once they complete my courses. I create job-ready students, which builds a better workforce of STEM graduates in Queensland. 

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

I’m 30 years old and still don’t really know what I want to be when I grow up! Through a lot of trial, error, curiosity and exploration, I found a career that I love and suits me perfectly and in which I am very successful and happy. I think my story is a common one but rarely spoken about, and it’s one that Little Alise would have loved to hear. It highlights the value of a generalised skillset, and openness about the unfounded feeling of not being good enough.

In high school, all my friends had figured out the trajectories of their entire lives, but I still had a lot more exploring to do. I knew I loved maths, but I didn’t know what I could do with that outside of academia. I struggled to see myself in any of the role models we were presented with: typically lab scientists in coats or engineers in hardhats. I’d look at these profiles and think their careers were unattainable as these people must be naturally talented and knew what they wanted to do from the start. I want to add my profile into that mix: someone who has dabbled in many corners of STEM and gets to do a bit of everything, including jobs people have never heard of! I use maths to save the ocean, teach classes and appear on TV. I think that’s so cool! STEM is all about exploration and discovery, and that applies to the career itself. I want to showcase that. 

I also think women and girls would benefit from hearing my experience with Imposter Syndrome. In my current job, I decided to face up to my Imposter Syndrome head-on, and now use that fear to my advantage: to motivate me to push further rather than hold me back. Through my career, I’ve realised that Imposter Syndrome is everywhere, even in the seemingly bulletproof female STEM heroes I look up to. I think women and non-binary folk are often deterred from STEM because of Imposter Syndrome, spurred by the lack of role models by which they feel represented. Females need to see themselves reflected in shiny, successful STEM heroes who can honestly tell them “I’ve had those uneasy feelings too but look at me now!” 

I’m a scientific nomad. I’ve developed a skill set that allows me to do exciting work, and communicate it, in countless industries. By not shoehorning myself into a specific career path, I opened all of the doors. I’m proud to be a mathematician who has jumped between education, biomechanics, asphalt engineering and now fisheries. I’ve encountered so many students with no idea what they want to do next. Sharing my story gives them hope that there is a perfect career out there for them, they just need to keep exploring the world around them and stay curious. 

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)

Science communication is a very strong passion of mine.

I’ve filmed segments for an upcoming children’s science television show called ‘Food Investigators’ which will be airing on ABC Me in 2022. I spoke about fisheries science and more generalised topics to engage children in sustainability and food science. 

Through my career I’ve readily volunteered for STEM engagement activities, including but not limited to: 
- hundreds of presentations and countless conversations about pathways into STEM through my work as a student ambassador;
- presenting at a Women in STEM seminar and providing advice to school-aged girls exploring careers in STEM;
- delivering workshops for and judging USC’s Maths Modelling Challenge, multiple times;
- delivering a hands-on interactive workshop on fractal geometry to grade 8 students as part of the ‘Maths Explains Our World’ program;
- presenting my STEM journey to grade 10 students through a STEM Connect program;
- presenting my research journey to university mathematics students at a Maths Teachers’ Hub of the Sunshine Coast seminar;
- presenting to commencing science faculty students on career options;
- writing for university students about ‘a day in the life of an applied mathematician’;
- three presentations about my career in fisheries science (to grade 7, 11 and 12 students);

I’ve spoken at two school ceremonies, to entire cohorts, on leadership and the role STEM has had in my development. 

With the Primary Industries Centre for Science Education (PICSE), I promoted the importance of STEM to school-aged students. I volunteered on four camps (3 to 5 days each), visiting primary industry sites and showing the science behind various projects. My role was to supervise and “inspire” the camp participants and to provide any technical insight I had. I was a judge for three Science Investigation Awards run by PICSE, and have contributed as a panel member to the PICSE Steering Committee Meeting.

I am an alumnus mentor in the USC Mentoring program and have been earmarked to present from an upcoming ‘careers in STEM’ program. 

Outside of STEM, I’m a leader in the quidditch community (a sport). Through this role I’ve given countless interviews, and weaved in my journey through STEM wherever relevant. Gender inclusivity is a primary goal of the quidditch community. A highlight of my quidditch career was organising initiatives like ‘Women on Pitch’ (a showcase match for non-male players) and ‘Level the Playing Field’ (a weekend of workshops and matches to develop skills and confidence for women, non-binary and gender diverse players). 

More implicitly, I promote STEM through my work as a university tutor. Most of my classrooms are full of engineering students, and there are often only two or three other women in a room full of men. I love that I get to be a woman up front, leading the class, able to show the women in the room how to lead in the industry. 

I never stop hustling and am currently creating content for a STEM-based YouTube channel and book. 

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