Leadership and other ships: ANU alumnae afloat in Antarctica

Written by Tabitha Carvan

Even at the ends of the Earth, there are ANU alumni.

And they’re all in the same boat, literally.

On the ship carrying 80 women to Antarctica for the 2018 Homeward Bound leadership program for women in STEMM, there were five alumni—or rather, alumnae—from the ANU Colleges of Science.

Among them, Nina Earl, Nicole Fetchet and Lee Constable can claim even more of a connection: they all completed the exact same program, the Master of Science Communication Outreach at the ANU Australian National Centre for the Public Awareness of Science.

Coincidence? No, says Nina, who works as a curator at the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences in Sydney.

“Everyone else on the ship kept saying we were such good communicators, and we were like, yes, we’ve trained to do this!”

Along with with Nicole, who works at Questacon, and Lee, the host of the youth-oriented science TV show Scope, Nina was on the Homeward Bound voyage to develop the leadership, strategic and networking skills required to tackle climate change.

“It was uplifting and empowering,” Nina says. “You realised you weren’t alone in your thinking. There was a real sense of collectiveness and being joined together.”

“One of the things that happened across the boat was a sharing of skillsets both up and down these chains of what would be hierarchies in a workplace, but all of that fell away and it became a very collaborative space.”

Lee says she’s still processing the journey a month after returning.

“People keep asking me, how was Antarctica? ‘Amazing’ is always the word I go to, but really words cannot describe what it was like to be in that place. And not only in that place but on that ship with those amazing women.”

The amazing women on the 2018 voyage included Dr Aparna Lal from the ANU Research School of Population Health, Professor Susan Scott of the ANU Research School of Physics and Engineering, and even Dr Merryn McKinnon, Lee’s former lecturer from her Masters program.

“Every single person I sat down with, you would find something different they could tell you about,” Lee says.

“Seeing the mixture of research scientists, and people who work more with government and policy, and people like me who work in communication, it really showed there is a place for all these women in science within the program.

“I learned so much from the researchers, but a lot of the researchers were actually asking me for my experience, advice, suggestions and input on topics to do with communication.”

Nina agrees, saying the diversity of participants helped her understand that “there are all sorts of different roles we can play in supporting change.”

Back on land, these ANU alumnae have waved goodbye to the Homeward Bound ship, and now it’s on to the next: leadership.

“I went into this program thinking ‘I want to be a better leader’ but it really reshaped my idea of what that means," Nina says.

“We can put all these labels on leadership but there’s really only one kind of leadership and that is knowing what your skills are, what the skills of the people around you are, and trying to work out how to support those people and yourself in a way that is meaningful.”