Postcards from science
The extraordinary diversity of a career in the geosciences
Kelly Strzepek is less than a year off completing her PhD researching how changes in ocean currents off Eastern Australia are affecting nutrient distribution and marine life. She’s interested to learn if ecosystems are changing. Are they moving in response to current climate perturbation? And have such changes occurred before in the region, or if this is something entirely new that we’re dealing with? By carefully analysing the isotopic composition of coral skeletons, Kelly is able to piece together how the ocean and its ecosystems functioned at various stages in the past.
But this is not Kelly’ first venture in to the ocean. “Through contacts I made during my summer scholarship, I had the opportunity to attend a scientific divers course in Catalina, off the west coast of the USA. This enabled me to take part in the field season that year, where we were studying microscopic marine zooplankton. These organisms, known as Foraminifera, are one of the key organisms used to understand past marine climate,” Kelly says.
“Because the composition of their calcium carbonate skeleton is sensitive to lots of important variables in climate like CO2 levels, ocean acidity and temperature, we manipulate their seawater in the lab to help us understand what we see in the fossil record.”
Before Kelly started her PhD she was invited back to dive but this time in Puerto Rico where the same team set up for another 6 week season. “I think it was my knowledge of Foraminifera together with my previous experience at sea that clinched my place on the Mawson Voyage (an Antarctic expedition that both commemorated Mawson’s historic trip to the frozen continent a century earlier and carried out vital scientific monitoring of the Southern Ocean).”
It was on the Mawson Voyage that Kelly was exposed to the media and communications side of science, and found she loved it. “As scientists, I think it’s really important to communicate what we do to the world and when that’s done by people with scientific training, I think it helps ensure that the facts are right. We don’t need to sensationalise science, it’s sensational enough as it is!” Kelly says.
“I started a blog during this trip and it’s been amazing how many hits it’s been getting.” She says, “I wanted people, especially young people in schools, to see what an exciting career and what awesome travel opportunities a degree in geosciences can give you. I’ve put in an awful lot of hard work over the years, but as a reward I have travelled to so many places. From scaling volcanoes in New Zealand to attending conferences in Hawaii and Amsterdam. I’ve done so many things that the general public never get the opportunity to do. I was even presenter for a documentary for Bearcage Productions and we are planning some more for the future. That experience was extraordinary, and of course I blogged about it! ”
“The motivation behind this blog is to demonstrate that wearing socks and sandals is not representative of today’s earth scientist. It’s a really dynamic field. And so much of what is topical right now is grounded in the Earth Sciences, be it climate change, resource limitation or natural hazards. Now more than ever, we must also learn to communicate our findings to the public and the policy makers in an accessible way.” Kelly explains.
The blog is now receiving over 300 hits a day from all over the world with a group of regular contributors from the Research School of Earth Sciences covering a number of themes that include earth science in the news, the latest research, opinion pieces, and what it is like to be a PhD student of the Earth Sciences.
Kelly has also been working as a science ambassador for the Australian National University, visiting schools and talking to students about science careers. “You’d think after all this time that the old stereotype of scientists as grey old men in lab coats would have faded, but so many of the kids, especially the girls don’t see science as something they can do. Particularly not in nice shoes. I really want to help change this idea. Because if you can stick at the maths and science through school, and work really hard, it can take you to so many exciting places.”
The blog, OnCirculation: It’s not just about socks and sandals can be found at: www.oncirculation.com