In­spir­ing science in­ter­est

Wangaratta Chronicle - - News - BY ANITA McPHER­SON

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

am­cpher­son@ ne­me­

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