Climate scientists can’t magically stop climate change – that’s up to all of us.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Sydney, but escaped to Canberra at the earliest possible opportunity when I was 18 and have never looked back. Bike paths and mountains are an easy win over crowded beaches and traffic.
Were you always interested in your current field?
My current field is physical oceanography – I investigate what drives the large scale ocean currents and how they impact climate. I took a slightly roundabout route to get here. During undergrad I was interested in quantum physics and avoided fluid dynamics at all costs. Curious to see what it would be like to have a real job, I then spent a few years as a high school teacher. In a perhaps delusional moment, I quit my permanent teaching job and decided that I wanted to work on cool science problems rather than have a stable career, and here I am.
Are you (still) working from home? If so, how’s it going?
I’m mostly still working from home. Actually, I’ve found working from home a lot less stressful than normal life; our pet ducks are very non-judgemental and aren’t interested in small talk. The front yard has also turned into a vegetable jungle with all the lunchtime gardening.
What projects are you working on?
My focus at the moment is on understanding what controls the warm ocean currents around Antarctica. Some parts of the ocean around Antarctica have warmed in recent decades and this is driving the rapidly accelerating melting of the ice sheet. But we don’t really understand why the ocean has been warming and how regional ocean temperature feedbacks will change in the future. We run high resolution models to understand the fine-scale ocean dynamics around Antarctica.
What do you want people to know about the work that you do?
People often think that because I work in climate science that my work is helping to “solve” climate change. Really my work is just telling us how bad climate change could get; would you prefer to choose a future with 10m of sea level rise, or only 3m? Climate scientists can’t magically stop climate change – that’s up to all of us.
Why do you love what you do?
My brain likes logic, order, and completeness. But a science project usually begins with a question that we don’t know the answer to, which puts a gaping hole in my brain’s description of how the world works. It’s therefore immensely satisfying to figure out the answer and plug that hole.
The other reason I love what I do is the amazing people I work with - collaborative, engaged, supportive and fun.
What is one specific thing that you have achieved (research or otherwise professionally) that you are most proud of?
I was recently awarded a 2020 L’Oreal-UNESCO For Women in Science Fellowship. Australia has a serious problem with gender balance at the leadership level in science, with the representation of women dropping sharply after early career stage. In the last 5 years since having kids, I’ve definitely considered leaving science and going back to that stable high school teaching career. I’m proud that I’ve got through what I’m hoping are the hardest years, and am looking forward to the opportunity that this fellowship brings to inspire future female scientists.