Michaela Dolk currently works in IAG’s Natural Perils team. As a flood analyst, she specialises in flood risk, but also works on other perils, including earthquakes and cyclones.
So what does a flood analyst do day-to-day? Well, Michaela’s role involves analysis and modelling to support insurance pricing and reinsurance decisions for Australia and New Zealand. “On any given day, I may be analysing geospatial hazard data (lots of maps!), learning about ways to retrofit homes to increase their resilience, and speaking with scientists around the world about the latest developments in catastrophe modelling,” she explains.
Currently, Michaela is working on updating IAG‘s flood models for Australia and New Zealand in order to better understand the risk faced by communities across the region.
“We can use this risk knowledge to improve pricing of insurance products, better understand the risk that we face as an insurer, and contribute to broader policy discussions about disaster risk mitigation and resilience,” she says. “Essentially, knowing more about natural perils can help us to better manage them.”
Getting into STEM
Michaela’s interest in STEM developed over time, from the excitement of building a light dimmer when studying electricity in primary school (the joys of adjusting a paper clip and watching as a light bulb grew brighter), to her fascination with apple seeds when eating lunch in high school (and associated failed attempts to cultivate “the new Granny Smith”).
Then at university, she enjoyed analysing results of a university biochar chemistry experiment (after many days of being covered head-to-toe in ground-up charcoal) and modelling climate change impacts on water security in South Asia (using technology such as satellites to study glaciers and snow).
In her current work? She’s using STEM to build catastrophe models (with many “cat” puns, she says!).
“The interest in STEM keeps growing, and the joy of translating curiosity into learnings into new applications never gets boring!”
Michaela admits there have been a few hurdles along her STEM journey, but not all of them were necessarily bad.
“One hurdle was deciding what to study at university,” she explains. “Whilst friends seemed to know which subjects they wanted to focus on, I tried all sorts of things, from medicine to soil science to plant science, until settling on hydrology. Although it was a little stressful not having a clear path, in hindsight, it was a blessing to be able to explore my interests, and to discover career options that I didn’t even know existed!”
In hindsight, Michaela wishes she’d known back in school that STEM can open up opportunities to work in a diverse range of sectors. “I had a notion that most STEM careers involve wearing a white coat in a lab. Little did I understand that there are a lot of scientists, engineers and mathematicians working in government, NGOs, and the corporate sector.”
And when it comes to diversity in STEM? Michaela thinks a wide range of views is super beneficial in all workforces.
“Our curiosity, the questions we ask, and the alternative ideas and solutions we think of, are all shaped in part by our perspectives and viewpoints,” she says. “From an industry perspective, through creating an inclusive and diverse STEM workforce, we can foster a healthy culture that drives innovation. From a societal perspective, everyone should have the opportunity to pursue a career in STEM if they so choose, with the knowledge that they will be included, valued and respected in the workforce.”
Looking for a future proof maths career? Michaela feels there are many exciting opportunities emerging at the intersection of catastrophe science, finance and policy, with a lot of work to be done to better manage catastrophe risk and help make communities more resilient.
“With emerging awareness of climate-related financial risk, there’s increasing momentum to improve climate analytics and to integrate knowledge of climate change risks into decision-making in finance and insurance,” she says.
Michaela’s advice for young people who want to learn about and pursue a career in STEM:
- Remain curious and don’t be afraid to try new things!
- Try to find opportunities to talk to people working in different sectors to better understand the array of possible STEM career paths (remember that people are often very happy to hear that someone’s interested in learning about what they do!)
- Grab any opportunities to get some hands-on work experience (this can help you get a more realistic perspective on various career paths, and help you to figure out what you do and don’t enjoy).
Michaela’s STEM study and career pathway to becoming a flood analyst
- Bachelor of Environmental Systems, University of Sydney
- MSc in Water Science, Policy and Management, Oxford University
- River modeller, CSIRO
- Nat cat specialist, Swiss Re
- Flood analyst, IAG
Want more maths and data career inspo? Check out Careers with STEM: Maths & Data 2021!
Author: Louise Meers
Louise is the production editor for Careers with STEM. She has a journalism degree from the University of Technology, Sydney and has spent over a decade writing for youth. She is passionate about inspiring young people to achieve their biggest goals.