Homeward Bound empowering women scientists

23 April 2018

Professor Susan Scott says the 2018 Homeward Bound Expedition has allowed her to network with other types of women scientists in a way she has never had a chance to, before.

Professor Scott, who is a theoretical physicist within the Department of Quantum Science at the ANU Research School of Physics and Engineering, returned recently from a three-week expedition on a ship as part of the second expedition to the Antarctic region.

She was one of 80 women selected internationally for the second Homeward Bound Program which took place at the beginning of 2018.

The Program involved 12 months of training followed by a three-day intensive briefing course in Ushuaia, Argentina before setting sail south through the Antarctic circle to Rothera base.

The Program is designed to provide women scientists with skills in leadership, strategic planning, visibility and in using media and social media to build their presence on the international scene related to environmental and climate science.

"I've never had this opportunity to network and talk and spend time with other types of scientists," she says.

"And when you're on a small ship together for three and a half weeks, you get a lot of time!

"I just found it amazing to be able to talk with these people about what they do and I couldn't get enough of it really.

"I work in a really male-dominated discipline so I very rarely get to interact with women scientists particularly in Australia and that was very refreshing for me to have that opportunity."

The women were from a diverse range of backgrounds, professions and career levels but they all share a common background in science.

"We had people who work in scientific policy-making roles who work in places like Washington - we had one of those, we had four vets from two different continents, we had biological scientists interested in sponges, algae and marine mammals and people working in various government institutions as well.

"There are further activities going on now beyond the expedition where we will attempt to have an impact in those directions."

Over the next 10 years, it's hoped participants will play a bigger role in determining the issues that relate to the health of the planet, she said.

Professor Scott, who is also Chief Investigator with the ARC Centre of Excellence for Gravitational Wave Discovery (OzGrav), says her expedition was able to go further south than the inaugural group because they had left for the Antarctic Circle at the end of the southern hemisphere's summer, not at the beginning.

"Once we were south of the Circle we visited the British base called Rothera and they said they were just so excited to have us visit that it really was a big deal for them. As we were all scientists, we had so much to talk about and these guys actually run real expeditions to the South Pole."

During the southern stage of the expedition, the ship needed to break through ice sheets over a 24 hour period.

"It was a very adventurous part of the expedition I have to say."

Professor Scott says there are plans for the women from the first two expeditions to meet again in Canberra in January 2019 to work out strategy and plans for the future.

For more on the Homeward Bound project, visit their website.