A life in two worlds

Research intersecting biology and social science can have a profound impact, but securing funding can be a challenge. University of Queensland PhD student and staff member Sheridan Rabbitt shares her story.

I work part-time at the Moreton Bay Research Station (MBRS) as the Station Assistant – Education. My primary role is to assist in organising science camps for high school students and to help co-ordinate our education and community outreach activities. I also help with the boating and diving, administration, and scientific needs of our clients.

As a marine scientist, I spend a lot of time in the water, but when I’m not there or at MBRS, I’m at the St Lucia campus working on my PhD investigating the role of women in fisheries in Solomon Islands. The aim is to understand how women are collecting and utilising fisheries resources, and how they're engaging with fisheries more broadly.

I hope to take this information and work with local communities to improve fisheries management and nutrition strategies in Solomon Islands and to promote the importance of women in fisheries management. We hope this information will lead to more effective resource management and improved food security for future generations throughout the Pacific.

What achievements are you most proud of?

I do a lot of community engagement and outreach activities in both my job and research, and I’m really proud of my work inspiring kids to pursue careers in science. I think kids often see science and engineering as boring, so being able to engage them and get them excited about these fields is something I am really passionate about. I think what I get the most value out of in my work is engaging with people in local communities, sharing scientific knowledge in a way that people can understand, and helping people take that knowledge and use it to improve their lives. There is really nothing more gratifying for me than having a student come up to me and say that I’m the reason they want to pursue a career in science! I don’t think you can beat that feeling.

What barriers have you faced?

One of the most significant barriers I’ve come up against so far has been a lack of research funding. Interdisciplinary projects like mine are really important for advancing science, and making the actions of management relevant to the people they affect. Despite this, I have really struggled to find funding for my project, which straddles both the biological and social sciences. It has too much biology for social science grants and too much social science for biology grants, so trying to find the funding to keep it going has been a bit of a struggle and can be disheartening. I’ve been really fortunate to collaborate with some amazing individuals and organisations that have helped me keep my head up in the face of a lot of grant rejections.

What would you like to see change for the next generation of women?

I’d really like to for there to be no more ‘firsts’ for women. No more of the ‘first woman in space’ or ‘first woman to be nominated for…’ I’d like to see gender equity in the sciences, and for it to be totally normal, not something people are constantly having to think about maintaining! I hope that the next generation finds powerful female role models to look up to in every field – sports, sciences, education, arts –so that women feel as if they really can do anything.

The Moreton Bay Research Station is part of UQ’s Faculty of Science. For more information: https://www.uq.edu.au/moreton-bay-research-station/content/front-page