What do you do?
I study the incredible diversification, evolution and chemical ecology of a marine mollusc using phylogenomics. The Southern Ocean benthic sea slug, Doris kerguelenensis, was originally described to be a single species that showed reduced dispersal potential. This slug lacks a free-swimming larval stage and can only crawl along the benthos as an adult.
Why did you choose this field?
In primary school, I was asked to write an essay on any Australian figure that has shaped our country's history. I, on a whim, chose Sir Douglas Mawson and from that moment onward I feel in love with Antarctica. I get goose bumps trying to fathom this man’s adventures and the work he and his team conducted throughout the early 1900’s. Later in life I was introduced to Charles Darwin and the science of evolutionary biology through his book ‘On the Origin of Species’. From this moment on, my path was very clear to me and I knew I wanted to work in the fields of evolutionary biology and Antarctic ecology.
My love from the ocean came from growing up on the coast of Western Australia whereby the beach was essentially my backyard, my surf board was my mode of transport and my mask and snorkel were my keys into this wonderful world below the surface. My love for sea slugs… well that one is obvious: they are insanely adorable!
More recently however, my work has been driven by the fact that the ocean houses an estimated 50-80% of all life on Earth. In recent years, reports have documented unprecedented and frankly, devastating alterations in both, the terrestrial and marine ecosystems that have resulted in accelerated species extinction rates by approximately 1,000 times the natural rate. This tells us that we, as humans are changing the fundamental biodiversity on the Earth.
This needs to stop. My research is directly aimed at filling knowledge gaps in the Southern Ocean – contributing to the fields of taxonomy, ecology, marine biodiversity and evolution which will accumulate to influence and inform marine conservation efforts.
What do you look at and think, "I wish younger me would have known this was possible"?
I truly do not believe that grade seven Paige would actually believe me if I told her we are on our way to getting to Antarctica to conduct research. Life hasn’t been a series of wins but the fact that through thick and thin the goal to go South has remained and we are on our way is quite mind-blowing at times.
Why do you love working in STEM?
All I do every day is learn. Every day I am surrounded by enthusiastic, hardworking and driven scientists that are hugely inspiration to me as they are striving for the best for themselves and for the world around them. I love working in STEM as every day is different, every day is full of potential and every day we are making a difference that will be everlasting and beneficial for generations to come.
Best advice for next generation?
It is the best place in the world to be so why not sit front row. Believe in yourself, trust your gut and follow your intuition – it could be you who helps change the world for the better so why not go for it!
Inspo quote / fun fact / role model
I have been lucky enough to solo travel to every continent in the globe (excluding Antarctica) before the age of 23 with the highlight of my experiences being that I successfully climbed to Mount Everest Base Camp in 2017.