The league of extraordinary women

UQ scientists and alumni in a female-led expedition to the world's coldest continent.

A few of the Homeward Bound 2016 participants pose for a photo during a visit to the Argentinian Carlini Base, where they met with scientists to discuss the observable impact of climate change and the challenges facing women on Antarctic bases.

Women all over the world are braving the cold of Antarctica to become better leaders who are informed about, and capable of, addressing the emerging scientific challenges facing our world.

A collection of the brightest women in science, including UQ researchers and alumni, recently undertook the inaugural Homeward Bound voyage to Antarctica.

The inaugural Homeward Bound Antarctic expedition was the first in a 10-year project, which aims to build a league of 1000 extraordinary women in science with the skills and capability to influence policy and decision-making for a better world.

Among the attendees was UQ Alumnus and Institute for Molecular Bioscience’s Dr Christina Schroeder (Doctor of Philosophy (Pharmacology and Biomedical Science) ’03), who said the trip fuelled her passion for communicating science effectively.

“The trip took us down to the end of the world,” Dr Schroeder said.

(Above) Dr Christina Schroeder walking on sea ice in Wilhelmina Bay(Background) Crabeater seals hanging out on sea ice in Wilhelmina Bay with the ship M\/V Ushuaia in the background

(Above) Dr Christina Schroeder walking on sea ice in Wilhelmina Bay
(Background) Crabeater seals hanging out on sea ice in Wilhelmina Bay with the ship M/V Ushuaia in the background

“We learnt that to get an audience interested in your message you need to talk to all types of people.

“As a scientist, it’s easy to just focus on the data, and that's why a lot of science presentations are boring. You need to learn that if you’re going to communicate your science to a broader audience, you need to learn to bring everyone in.

“You can’t skip the data, but you also need to tell people how you got there and what you want to do with it.”

Dr Schroeder said the coalition of 76 women was enhanced by the diversity of backgrounds among participants.

“We had a range of people from different backgrounds, from doctors to policy makers, to educators, to academics, to advocates, to social scientists," she said.

“I don’t think it would have worked if it was a ship full of only medical researchers.

(Above) Dr Christina Schroeder kneeling in front of a 200, 000 strong colony of Adélie penguins on Paulet Island in the North Weddell Sea(Background) One of the expedition's Zodiac vessels cruises through Curtiss bay where amazing landscape of icebergs and glaciers crumble and roll in front of you

(Above) Dr Christina Schroeder kneeling in front of a 200, 000 strong colony of Adélie penguins on Paulet Island in the North Weddell Sea
(Background) One of the expedition's Zodiac vessels cruises through Curtiss bay where amazing landscape of icebergs and glaciers crumble and roll in front of you

“Everyone brought something different to the ship. The diversity of backgrounds meant you were exposed to various fields and weren't bogged down in academia. I think it really worked to our benefit,” Dr Schroeder said.

A Weddell seal lazing about on an ice float off Palmer station, Anvers Island

A Weddell seal lazing about on an ice float off Palmer station, Anvers Island

Dr Schroeder said the trip exposed the impact of climate change, as the effects were evident even in remote and uninhabited landscapes such as Antarctica.

“The trip focused on women in science in addition to climate change and the need for action," she said.

“You really saw the impact of climate change on the environment. The fact that no one permanently lives in Antarctica, yet it is still so affected by global warming, truly shows how much the world is changing.”

The evening following the ships' landing at Brown Bluff, an area on the Antarctic peninsula famous for its penguin populations

Another highlight of the trip was the team’s exposure to penguin colonies during their daily landings where they left the ship to explore the mainland or areas around them.

(Above) An Adélie Penguin on an ice float at Brown Bluff (Background) The Homeward Bound expedition walking carefully on sea ice in Wilhelmina Bay, returning to the Zodiac vessels

(Above) An Adélie Penguin on an ice float at Brown Bluff 
(Background) The Homeward Bound expedition walking carefully on sea ice in Wilhelmina Bay, returning to the Zodiac vessels

“The penguins stole my heart, they really did. They are just amazing, absolutely amazing. They are just funny and so vicious and cute," Dr Schroeder said.

 A Gentoo penguin in Neko Harbour eyes off the camera

 A Gentoo penguin in Neko Harbour eyes off the camera

“When you land in an area, and there are more than 200,000 penguins at that particular spot, you are just surrounded by them - the noise is incredible and deafening.

A Gentoo penguin with its chick at Brown Bluff

A Gentoo penguin with its chick at Brown Bluff

“A lot of the penguin species only live in Antarctica, so global warming is drastically affecting their habitat. It’s scary to think that they are so threatened.”

Dr Schroeder said she is now focusing on putting the skills learnt through Homeward Bound into action and using her platform to help other young women get involved in science.

“The next step for me is to implement what I learnt, in both my work and personal life,” she said.

“One thing that I want to focus on is finding a work-life balance; I think as a woman in science, especially as a woman in science with young children, it is a difficult challenge.

“As a result of our collaborations and work on this project we hope to create outreach opportunities and encourage more young women to get involved in science, by making it a visible career choice for them.

“We also want to make ourselves available as mentors for the next cohort. We were the first 76 women, but the project aims to connect 1000 women over the next 10-years, so obviously being involved and sharing our experiences is vital.”

Other UQ alumni on the expedition included Dr Danielle Medek (Bachelor of Science '02), Jennifer Woodgate (Bachelor of Engineering '01, Graduate Certificate in Mineral Resources '05) and Dr Nancy Auerbach (Doctor of Philosophy (Biological Science) '15). In addition to Dr Johanna Speirs (Bachelor of Science (First Class Honours) '05, Doctor of Philosophy (Atmospheric Sciences) '12) and Dr Justine Shaw (Bachelor of Science (First Class Honours) '96).

Gentoo penguins on Danco Island in the Errera Channel

Selections for the 2018 Homeward Bound voyage have just been made and UQ alum Samantha Reynolds (Bachelor of Arts ’99, Diploma in Science ’13, Bachelor of Science (First Class Honours) ’16) is among those selected for a coveted spot.

Ms Reynolds said she was honoured to be among those chosen for the 2018 voyage.

“Because of my education at UQ and my work with ECOCEAN, I have had the great honour of being one of 70 international women in science chosen for Homeward Bound 2018.”

“This is an amazing leadership mentoring programme set against the backdrop of Antarctica, that encourages women in science to find their voice and help shape the future of our planet,” she said.

(Above) Samantha Reynolds  - Credit ECOCEAN(Background) Neko Harbour in Andvord Bay, Antarctica 

(Above) Samantha Reynolds  - Credit ECOCEAN
(Background) Neko Harbour in Andvord Bay, Antarctica 

Ms Reynolds, who graduated in 2016 and was awarded a university medal in recognition of outstanding academic merit, now works as a research scientist with not-for-profit ECOCEAN.

“I am a marine biologist working with ECOCEAN, a not-for-profit, research, conservation and educational organisation. ECOCEAN uses the world's biggest fish, the charismatic whale shark, to engage the public in marine conservation and students in STEM learning,” she said.

Samantha Reynolds Swimming with a Whale Shark - Credit Janine Marx

Samantha Reynolds Swimming with a Whale Shark - Credit Janine Marx

“My work with ECOCEAN involves an innovative collaboration with the Western Australian Department of Education and Training, which brings real-world scientific research directly into classrooms across the state.

“Schools sponsor satellite tags that are deployed on whale sharks, and this allows us to track the poorly understood movements of whale sharks from the winter congregation site at Ningaloo Reef.

“Students can follow the tracks of the sharks on the open-access website ZoaTrack and participate in exciting STEM learning activities based on the tracking.”

“I feel privileged to be able to inspire school students to be passionate about STEM,” Ms Reynolds said.

"I have also just returned from the Maldives, where ECOCEAN is conducting research on the whale sharks in Thaa Atoll, with support from COMO Maalifushi. This work includes the only satellite tracking of whale sharks permitted by the Maldives Government.”

A whale shark in the wild - Credit ECOCEAN

A whale shark in the wild - Credit ECOCEAN

As a mature age student who returned to UQ to pursue her passion, Ms Reynolds said she wants to encourage others to chase their dreams.

“I am passionate about what I do and want people to know it is never too late to keep learning or to follow your dreams."

You can help support Ms Reynolds expedition here, with supporters of various levels being offered the opportunity to accompany ECOCEAN whale shark research trips.

Samantha Reynolds on Graduation Day

Samantha Reynolds on Graduation Day

Other UQ alumni who've been selected for future Homeward Bound expeditions include current PhD student Samantha Nixon (Diploma in Languages (Spanish) '16, Bachelor of Biomedical Science (First Class Honours) '16).