Science careers: from sci-fi to flying high

Publication date
Tuesday, 25 Jul 2017

ANU alumnus Chris Harris-Pascal is changing the world from the groundwater up.

For many people, science fiction is all about superheroes battling martians with ray guns.

But as a young sci-fi fan, Chris Harris-Pascal saw straight away that the real hero was science itself.

“I liked that heroic idea of changing the future,” the ANU alumnus remembers.

“Science always seemed to me like a career where you can have a tangible impact on the world.”

Inspired to become a real-life superhero, and also driven just a little bit by “the subtle form of rebellion” against his English-teacher parents, Chris enrolled in a Bachelor of Science at ANU.

Ready to explore distant worlds, Chris was drawn to geology with its promise of diverse field-trips.

He went to Mount Isa, learning how to navigate with a map and compass while experiencing the remote northern Australian climate, which he describes as “really something, if you grew up in Canberra.”

He travelled to One Tree Island, off the coast of Queensland, to explore one of Australia’s best reefs on a research station open only to scientists.

And for his Honours project, he explored the lower Murrumbidgee catchment.

“I was looking at uranium isotopes in groundwater and whether they can be useful as an environmental tracer to understand how much groundwater you can extract in a sustainable way.”

With this project, Chris hit upon his specific scientific superpower: groundwater management. He now works in this field for Geoscience Australia, where he is making the “tangible impact on the world” which he always dreamed of.

He does everything from collecting water samples and investigating groundwater systems to advising government and ensuring mining companies are not damaging the environment.

“One reason I wanted to work at Geoscience Australia rather than go on to a career in research is that the stuff you work on is immediately relevant to managing water resources in Australia,” says Chris.

“I wanted the instant gratification of doing something that is useful to policy-makers or resource managers.”

And the best thing about his job? It’s the same as the best thing about ANU: the fieldwork.

“We might do two months of the year in the field and I love it. But after a few weeks you then really appreciate being in the office so you never get bored of any one thing.

“It’s almost perfect really.”

Just like a childhood dream come true. Only without the martians.

Realise your dreams with a Bachelor of Science at ANU.