Inspiring science interest
An inspirational scientist and passionate advocate for the preservation of the environment and native species visited Wangaratta schools this week in the hope of encouraging all young students to follow their dreams.
Dr Kate Grarock is an ecologist, Woodlands and Wetlands Trust Ambassador and also a STEM superstar, one of 30 of the nation’s best female scientists and technologists selected by Science and Technology Australia to be a role model for young women and girls.
Dr Grarock works at Mulligans Flat Woodland Sanctuary in Canberra and was visiting the region to attend a “Curlew Summit” in Albury, when she decided to head down the Hume to pay a visit to students at Springhurst Primary School, Charles Sturt University’s Wangaratta Regional Study Centre and Galen Catholic College.
She said having grown up in a small country town in South Australia, she wanted to make sure rural and regional schools were on her list of places to visit and hoped being “brutally honest” about her own career path might be helpful.
“I talk about how I struggled with reading and writing when I was in primary school and how I got help with that, because without it, I would never have been able to be a scientist, my dream job, and do so many cool things,” she said.
“I want to encourage some of those students who are struggling with certain elements of their education, whether it’s maths, writing or spelling, that you can actually work on those areas so that you can achieve in the areas you are more skilled in.
“It’s about complimenting your expertise.”
Dr Grarock also wants kids to know that she didn’t follow a direct path to that ultimate job, instead joining the Navy at a young age and spending five years there before deciding to return to study as a mature age student.
“My passion and love for the environment drove me to go to university and then when I thought I finally got my dream job (with the federal environment department) I found it was desk-based and not what I wanted,” she said.
“I wanted to be out chasing the animals, researching them and learning about them, so I had to go and do a bit more study to get where I wanted to be.
“A bit of trial and error in life is okay – you shouldn’t be scared to have a crack at things.”
Dr Grarock, who didn’t complete year 12 yet now has a PhD, works in what she describes as a massive, outdoor laboratory where she learns about woodlands and how to make them thriving ecosystems.
It’s home to Eastern bettongs and Eastern quolls, species which became extinct on the Australian mainland because of predators like foxes
RURAL VISIT: Superstar of STEM, ecologist Dr Kate Grarock called in to Springhurst Primary School this week where she visited students including (left) Ebony Brown and (right) Eli Keys. PHOTO: Anita McPherson and cats, and have now been reintroduced to the sanctuary from the remaining populations found in Tasmania.
Dr Grarock said kids are particularly interested in that side of her work, and it inspired some very intelligent questions for students at Springhurst who were keen to understand how the food chain works.
She said the Superstars of STEM was helping to establish women with science careers as real life role models for students who may not have much contact with professional, practising scientists.
“But I think we need to expand the concept of what a scientist is – they don’t need to be an ecologist like me or even have a degree or PhD – there is a broad range of jobs they can have a go at – whatever they can imagine,” she said.
“It’s also important to be aware of the small or more subtle differences between women and men (in the workforce), such as women being a little more reluctant to put their hand up to take on that next leadership role.
“Small changes over the lifetime of your career can make a big difference.”
MEET AND GREET: Dr Grarock also enjoyed her visit to Galen Catholic College where she chatted with students including (from left) Tara Willett-Linsell, Alice O’Connor, Tahlia Hurley, Amelia Davidson, Edward Gorman and Cooper Patterson. PHOTO: Mal Webster