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Celebrating RGSQ women Geographers

18 Feb 2021 1:30 PM | Anonymous

By Irpahne Childs

Three young women members have shared their thoughts on being Geographers in Australia in 2021. Thanks to Nicole, Annie, and Kathryn for sharing their stories and views. Here is what they said……

 Dr. Nicole Garofano - grew up in Sydney, then spent 12 months travelling in central and south America, the Caribbean, Barbados, the US/Canada, and the UK. She has worked in the travel industry and as a volunteer for a local NGO on environmental education in Barbados. Nicole has an MA in Development Practice, a Graduate Certificate in Environmental Management and in February 2021 graduated with her PhD from UQ.

 Dr. Annie Lau- grew up in Hong Kong where she completed high school education, her undergraduate and M. Phil degrees. She completed her PhD in Singapore. Annie is currently Lecturer in the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, UQ, specializing in geomorphology, coastal science, coastal change, storms, and tsunamis in the Pacific and Australia. Annie is an RGSQ Councilor and Treasurer.

 Ms. Kathryn Scott - grew up in Toowoomba, and now lives on the Sunshine Coast. She has a Bachelor of Learning Management (Primary) from CQ University and a Master of Environment from Griffith University. She is Senior Project officer, Natural Assets Policy and Planning in the Qld Dept. of Agriculture and Fisheries. Kathryn is a member of the RGSQ Scientific Studies Committee.

Why did you first become interested in being a geographer?

Nicole: I have always been interested in geography. Listening to my Dad’s stories of his travels around the world on Cable and Wireless telecommunication cable maintenance ships. From an early age my Dad took us through many exotic locations. In those days, you had to stop in Singapore, then Bahrain, and then London. All of that planted seeds of wanting to know more about the world, countries, and people. I recall having to choose between geography and history at high school, and for me it was simple – geography all the way!

Annie: I have always loved maps and spent hours reading road maps with my younger brother. Geography was my favorite subject in school. I enjoyed learning about mountains, rivers, population change and urban development. I was particularly amazed by the fact that I could apply the concepts learned in class to better understand the natural disasters reported in the news. I feel blessed that I am still working in the field of natural hazards, and that I can share my passion with students as I teach the “Environmental hazards” course at UQ now.  

Kathryn: At a young age I was particularly interested in physical geography - geomorphology, climatology, and biogeography. At school, geography was always one of my favourite subjects. I chose Geography as one of my senior subjects and thoroughly enjoyed the field trips and learning about different earth systems, human relationships to places and how each can influence the other to varying extents. 

What do you see as your main contributions to Geography?

Nicole: For my Ph.D. I studied how the geography of small island developing states presented challenges and opportunities in waste management. I strive to raise awareness of the roles of geography and culture in remote island states that affect resource and waste management of plastics. Geographically remote, these islands receive plastic packaged products from many brands and manufacturers. Yet, their remoteness is forgotten when the post-consumption packaging from these products needs to be managed.

Annie: My research focuses on using landforms, rocks, and sediments to understand how and why coastlines change through time. Some changes are gradual (e.g. accumulation of sand to form dunes), while some happen within minutes (e.g. erosion caused by natural hazard events). The results of my work can help stakeholders and policymakers to make better decisions in risk and land management for protecting coastal environments, habitats, and people.

Kathryn: As a former primary school teacher I seized opportunities to share my interest in geography with students, instilling a sense of curiosity and care for the natural world. Now my contributions are more on a personal level - travel experiences, particularly the voyage to Antarctica in 2018, part of the Homeward Bound project, opened my eyes to the incredible interconnectedness of Earth's places, and how far-reaching human impacts are. I am more conscious of how my daily choices have cumulative effects over time and so I strive to live more sustainably.   

The 2021 theme for IWD is Choose to Challenge – What challenges do you see facing women geographers in Australia in 2021?

Nicole: the challenge is accessing people in 2021. State border closures and concerns about interacting in the public realm limit the ability to gather perspectives, in some cases even within the same neighborhood. On the other hand, COVID-19 has created some unique studies examining the relationships between people and their surroundings. For me personally, not being able to reach foreign shores limits the scope of my chosen work in small island developing states.

Annie: In 2021 a major challenge is to adapt to pandemic-related travel restrictions. Geographers need to conduct fieldwork but most travel is not possible nowadays. We have to change how we work, adjust project plans, and find creative solutions to problems. As an individual, I continue to challenge gender stereotypes and fight for gender equality.

Kathryn: Many Australians are acutely aware of the challenges we face at global and national scales in 2021 but we have the option to see the opportunities they present. While women geographers in Australia (as for women in STEMM more broadly), have much to celebrate in the progress already made, there remains the challenge of striving for equity - in leadership, in pay and in fair recognition and representation in decision-making. It is crucial now more than ever that diversity and inclusiveness is embraced as a key strength and a true part of Australia's identity in co-creating the future we choose. 

What has been your greatest joy in your work as a geographer?

Nicole: The most simplistic joy I have known is to teach a geography for tourism course at TAFE more than a decade ago. It was such a pleasure to get back to basics and encourage others to get familiar with their world and what it contains. Since then, other joys have been introducing those in the developed world, the global north, to the wonders of remote island locations and their traditions, their beauty, and their challenges.

Annie:Spending time and talking with people in coastal communities, especially in more isolated, remote places, motivates me to research coastal hazards as I can help people to understand the past and be better prepared for future hazards like cyclones and tsunamis. At the same time, I always feel very contented and excited to learn about nature as local people share their knowledge with me generously.

Kathryn: I am fortunate to have seen a large iceberg in Antarctica. Meeting and working with an amazing range of people who span the different disciplines of geography has been a joy.

How would you persuade a high school student passionate about geography to take up a degree in Geography?

Nicole: Give them a set of maps of the world, showing topography, population, biodiversity - anything that represents the vast differences in the countries and regions of the planet. Then show them pictures of unique places, perhaps the Blue Planet, and see if this inspires them. This combined with a few stories from my geographical adventures might spur in them what spurred in me all those years ago.

Annie: Go for it and you will not regret it! To be able to study and work in a field that you are passionate about is the best thing in the world. Geography is a very broad field, you can choose to specialise in areas that you are most interested in, learn different skills that can be applied in your daily life and in workplaces, and start a career that you will enjoy.

Kathryn: If you are already passionate about geography then completing a degree is the icing on the cake - it will not only open doors to a range of possible career options, but further study will enable you to continue learning about the things that interest you while expanding your networks and finding ways to do work you enjoy and make a meaningful difference in the world.

Photos courtesy of Nicole Garofano, Annie Lau and Kathryn Scott

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