Highly Commended Award

School of Environment and Science at Griffith University
The unexpected value of climate adaptation heuristics 

Are you eligible for Breaking Barriers Category:


Climate change is causing impacts that threaten to harm us unless we effectively adapt to increases in intense storms, heatwaves, floods, and rising sea levels. Unfortunately, much of the current science does not examine what knowledge and principles underpin these decisions. My work is globally pioneering the study of adaptation heuristics that are rules of thumb used to decide how investments and policies are made on climate adaptation and evaluate their robustness. I compare complex decision-making theories with real world policy- and decision-making processes through meticulous historical analysis, interviewing top scientists and policymakers, and running scenario groups that examine people's reactions to future visions. I was awarded Australian Research Council Discovery Early Career Research Award in 2018 to support this work that is pushing the boundaries of climate adaptation science. 

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

While climate adaptation is often seen as a future issue, in order for it to be effective, we need to start embedding these future considerations into our current decisions and planning systems. This is why knowing which actions to take, when and at what scale is crucial so that investments are not wasted. My pioneering work has established a new research strand of adaptation heuristics that identifies commonly used rules of thumb in how decisions on adaptation are made and evaluates their robustness. Having a better understanding of adaptation heuristics and the ways we interpret and view adaptation as an issue for science and policy enables us to detect potential biases in our decision-making and make more effective decisions on adaptation. This has enormous benefits in providing more targeted and evidence-based strategies at local, regional and state levels. 

This work has already contributed to the top global scientific and policy activities Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's 5th and 6th assessment and also to the United Nations climate adaptation thematic programs that enhance dialogue between globally recognized high-level experts and policymakers. My research is benefitting Queensland’s climate adaptation practitioners and scientists through my engagement both with the policy and science communities in researching their practical decision-making contexts and current adaptation heuristics they use to make decisions. I often discuss with local and state government practitioners the challenges they face in implementing and planning for adaptation. It is from this work that I have been able to publish papers on the complexities of using “adaptation is local” heuristic that proposes that adaptation is mainly a local issue and thus a responsibility for local governments and communities. By raising critical discussion on what elements of adaptation are actually local and which need strong multi-level governance and collaboration I have been able to highlight many of these challenges and provide advice on how we should approach adaptation. 

My work has also contributed to a renewed discussion on responsibilities between different actors for how we adapt to climate change. This research will provide even more benefits in the future when climate impacts continue to unfold at more intensity especially when we discuss managed retreat and relocation of communities, and what decisions can be taken now and what community engagement should look like in the process. 

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 believe I am a great role model for other women and girls in STEM for three key reasons. Firstly, I have already this early in my career managed to build a globally significant research niche that progresses the field of climate adaptation through critical research and discussion on adaptation heuristics. In recognition of my achievements, I was awarded a Griffith University Outstanding Young Alumnus Award for Sciences Group in 2019 and a Tall Poppy Queensland Award 2020. In 2018, I was handpicked to deliver the high-level statement on behalf of the global research community at the United Nations Convention of Parties 24 (COP) in Katowice, Poland. I was one of the youngest Lead Authors in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 6th Assessment Report (Working Group II) where I also co-lead the Adaptation section for the Summary for Policymakers; the most impactful scientific document that is negotiated with governments line by line. I was extremely proud to represent Australia in IPCC and set an example to my peers that age is not a limitation to achieving key roles in global science and policy processes. 

Secondly, I am a sole parent who has had to innovate in order to balance a high-profile career with sole parenting in ways that enable me to live to my full potential as a scientist and mother. Many other women have commented how my career and life have shown them that they have diverse opportunities at their fingertips to have both a career and a family. Given that I am often unable to travel due to childcare responsibilities, I started a personal blog in 2017 to share key insights on latest books on decision-science, leadership and adaptation and to have my voice heard also outside of the academia. The blog in particular has inspired other women to start their own blogs, websites and social media branding strategies.

Thirdly, I am genuinely passionate about leadership and elevating opportunities for others. In 2018, I started WonderWomen group at Griffith University for early career women who were interested in learning more about science communication, career building and branding. I mentor younger women also outside the university who are looking for careers in STEM. One of my mentees has just been accepted to Princeton, Berkley, Stanford and Duke for an transdisciplinary PhD program in climate change. I help women and girls to build professional networks and becoming more visible in STEM by connecting them with high profile scientists, writing them recommendations and co-authoring research publications and pieces. In my role as Co-chair of the Science Committee of World Adaptation Science Program under the United Nations, I advocate always for the inclusion of women early career researchers. I see this inclusion as a way to improve the science that we conduct but also the careers that can spring from these interactions. Getting women a seat at the table drives me to remain vigilant on the ways I can work to progress gender equality and equity in Queensland and abroad. 

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)

I thrive promoting STEM via diverse strategies. I speak regularly to junior high and high school students about adaptation to climate change, what future challenges we need to solve and what a job like mine entails. I focus very much on being a public face for my field via science communication as it is absolutely crucial that women and girls see themselves reflected in seminars, conferences and presentations. I frequently push for the inclusion of other women in committees and presentations especially those who are still early in their careers. I have seen first-hand how much these opportunities and moments matter in how we view ourselves, to be able to speak as an expert and having your knowledge valued.

While I see the immense need for us to teach our subjects and talk about the science, a similarly important need is to teach younger women and girls early on how to build their confidence and seek out opportunities to grow as a professional in any field. I am often asked to speak in international, national and local webinars, conferences and seminars about my work but also specifically on how I think the future of the field looks like and what career trends and skills women in particular should focus on. At Griffith University, I have co-designed and delivered Higher Degree Research workshops on leadership skills and capabilities that have always included a high-level senior female staff member who has told us about their careers, the challenges they have faced and how they have worked through those. I have given several talks for Future Earth Australia’s early career programs and internationally where I have specifically addressed what it takes to be a woman in a fast-growing field like climate change adaptation. 

I also do podcast interviews to promote STEM and adaptation more broadly: my interview in Coaching for Leaders (in top 10 of leadership podcasts in iTunes) has been downloaded over 60,000 times. I have received excellent feedback on the podcast episodes and currently I am recording podcast episodes for Griffith Professional where I also seek to interview women on how they have adapted their careers to changing circumstances. My pieces in The Conversation have been read over 53,000 times and I always seek opportunities to promote climate change adaptation across different platforms. I recently also joined the Board of Directors of the Binna Burra Foundation to bring my knowledge and expertise in climate adaptation to the foundation’s activities and decisions, making STEM directly decision relevant. I regularly speak at Pint of Science and I was just an invited guest on ABC’s science podcast Ockham’s Razor to discuss climate adaptation. 


The unexpected value of climate adaptation heuristics