Environment

Canberra scientists on board first all-female expedition to Antarctica

Canberra scientists are set to be at the heart of a global project that aims to bolster the role of women in leadership positions and help tackle climate change. 

Nine scientists from the ACT are among 78 women from throughout the world chosen to take part in Homeward Bound, an initiative that aims to bring together 1000 women in science in the next decade.

ANU science student Nina McLean and CSIRO scientist Deborah O'Connell will be among nine ACT women to take part in the ...
ANU science student Nina McLean and CSIRO scientist Deborah O'Connell will be among nine ACT women to take part in the first all-female trip to Antarctica.  Photo: Jay Cronan

The aim of the project is two-fold: to elevate the role of women in leadership globally and to explore how those scientists can contribute to a more sustainable future for the planet. 

It will culminate in the first women-only scientific expedition to Antarctica leaving from South America in December this year. 

The women have been in contact online and have already started on group projects in the lead-up to the three-week voyage, which will include day trips to islands and bases to examine the effects of climate change.

ANU PhD student Nina McLean said scientists would take part in three programs that would focus on leadership skills, climate change and strategy and innovation during the trip.

"It will really encourage collaboration and how we can bring what we've learnt back to our communities, and try to think how we can impact policy and leadership change, especially in the areas of climate change and sustainability," Ms McLean said. 

Dr Merryn McKinnon, a lecturer at ANU's Centre for Public Awareness of Science, said the strong Canberra contingent meant the project presented an exciting opportunity for science in the ACT and could have a powerful impact locally. 

"Climate change is the lens but I think the outcome will be a lot of those buzz words in the collaboration space at the moment – collaboration, partnership, that sense of working together for a common goal."

She believed women in science faced "a very specific set of challenges".

"Science is always evolving and changing and women are more likely than men to take a career break.

"It can be very difficult to get back in, you can feel you've been left behind."

CSIRO principal research scientist Deborah O'Connell said the organisation had only a handful of women in senior leadership positions and was among scientific institutions in Australia that had experienced "a real crisis in female leadership". 

"I love the diversity of working overseas, when I come back to Australia it's not like that in policy or science. When I look around the table it's generally 50 or 60-year-old men calling the shots."

She hoped the project would create a global network and "critical mass" of women in science long-term who could help ensure economies and societies were adaptable and resilient in the face of climate change and other challenges.

"Homeward Bound has quite deliberately included heads of departments and really, really senior people, and we've got PhD students and we're all put into the mix and we're all the same. 

"I hope in the short-term it gives women a really strong network that helps build each other's confidence."