At school Ashleigh was into science, but also creative subjects too.
“I loved physics, but also geology and art,” the University of Melbourne graduate says. “I enjoyed basically any subject where I could learn about how the world around us works.”
And with a family big-time into environmental science, Ashleigh spent her childhood hanging out in nature – camping, kayaking and rock climbing – constantly questioning why and how things were the way they were.
A natural fit
After high school Ashleigh headed to the University of Melbourne where enrolling in a Bachelor of Science with Honours was a no-brainer. Majoring in geology, she was able to throw herself into her favourite field – nature – and spent her summers interning at the mines in both NT and WA where she picked up a heap of knowledge about natural resources.
Ashleigh’s undergraduate degree led to a PhD in the School of Earth Sciences, and later an awesome research gig through the NASA Astrobiology Institute at Yale University. And now? “I’m still at Uni but I’m the one lecturing rather than being taught!” she laughs.
Being a lecturer at the University of Melbourne‘s School of Earth Sciences, means that Ashleigh doesn’t really have an average day. One week she could be heading up a classroom, and the next in the lab or out in the field collecting rocks in Namibia for an exciting research project. At the moment she’s studying 650-million-year-old fossilised tropical reefs that formed in the most severe ice age in Earth’s history.
“They were even bigger than the Great Barrier Reef!” Ashleigh explains. “We’re trying to understand what kind of creatures lived in them and how life survived the ice age.”
When she’s not trekking for rocks, zapping them with lasers and writing about them in scientific journals Ashleigh is seriously passionate about promoting diversity in geology.
“Only eight per cent of professors in earth sciences in Australia are female but things are changing,” she stresses. “Some of the most exciting science in my field is being done by women. And in hiking boots and flannel shirts too – not lab coats!”
As one of the inspiring L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science fellows Ashleigh is positive that increased diversity in the field is helping drive many exciting new discoveries. And her advice to anyone – particularly girls – wanting to break into STEM fields? “Be curious, get involved and don’t ever think you are not clever enough for science or maths. Make sure your voice is heard in class!”
Author: Cassie Steel
As Refraction’s digital editor, Cassie Steel spends her days researching robots and stalking famous scientists on Twitter.