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Charlotte birkmanis

PhD candidate, University of Western Australia Oceans Institute 

 

And - Fluent in Mandarin Chinese

Keep ticking off those tiny goals, one-by-one, and next thing you know, you'll be ticking off those bigger ones.

What do you do?

My research investigates where sharks are and why they are there. I work on a range of shark species, looking at the areas they live in and the surrounding environment. I use this to develop maps that predict where sharks are now, where they were in the past and even where they’ll be in the future (kinda like time travel)! I am also actively involved in sharing scientific discoveries with the public to increase understanding about sharks and other predators.

Why did you choose this field?

"That curiosity about the natural world has never left me."

I love being in nature and I am absolutely fascinated by predators: what they do, where and why they do it. I grew up in Queensland with the Great Barrier Reef on my doorstep and from an early age I loved the ocean; be it swimming, snorkelling or SCUBA diving. I am very lucky that as well as living near the beach, my family encouraged me to learn to dive as soon as I hit the minimum age and took us on holidays visiting aquariums and beaches. In primary school (aged 10 years old) the teacher asked us what we wanted to be when we grew up, and I said ‘a marine biologist’. I remember loving documentaries growing up, especially those by David Attenborough, and being inspired by Sylvia Earle, Eugenie Clark and Jane Goodall. 

What do you look at and think, "I wish younger me would have known this was possible"?

There are so many things … having lived in Europe, Asia, as well as Australia I’ve learnt that even though people have different cultures and languages there are more things that unite us than divide us. I have been lucky enough to have studied and dived with sharks around Australia and across the world, and to do my research on tropical islands in the middle of the Indian Ocean (the Chagos Archipelago).

Why do you love working in STEM?

I love that we are making a positive difference in the world and I love the field work. In my project I get to learn new things every day and I’ve been able to experience different facets of marine science, catching and tagging sharks and predatory fish, swimming with sharks to film them, taking genetic and muscle samples and presenting at international conventions … although there’s also plenty of time spent doing lab work, data analysis, reading and writing. 

Best advice for the next generation

Keep ticking off your tiny goals, one-by-one, and next thing you know, you’ll be ticking off those bigger goals that seemed impossible initially. 

Fun fact

1) I have travelled to over 40 different countries.

 

2) Did you know you are more likely to be killed by a coconut than a shark.