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Madhavi Patterson

PhD candidate, Geocoastal research group

One Tree Island

University of Sydney PhD candidate Madhavi Patterson is researching the evolution of the Great Barrier Reef.

Madhavi Patterson hangs out with coral a lot – and not just through a snorkel and goggles while on holidays. As a PhD candidate studying the evolution of the Great Barrier Reef, she spends hours in the lab identifying – and cutting – coral skeletons, studying algae and using computer programs to visualise 3D coral structures.

And yep, regular trips to tropical islands are all part of the gig. 

“Being able to visit the Great Barrier Reef for work is incredible,” says Madhavi.  “Coral reef environments are amazingly complex and there is always something to see and learn. It’s an opportunity I treasure every single time.”

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Studying with the flow

Madhavi kicked off her tertiary studies at the University of Sydney with a Bachelor of Liberal Arts and Science, which soon turned into a Bachelor of Arts and Science when she realised her favourite subjects were geology, geophysics and geography. She got really into art history and archaeology too, always favouring field-based units that involved fewer sit-down lectures and more hands-on, outdoor opportunities.  

It was one of these practical field courses that led Madhavi to coral cay One Tree Island – an almost-deserted tropical island about 100km off the Queensland coast, operating as a University of Sydney research station – which inspired her to seek out work as a research assistant on coral reef studies. She also picked up a volunteer position as an artefact analyst on an archaeological site nearby, by which time she had become seriously passionate about – and invested in – marine and coral environments. 

Life – and work – is a beach

Flash forward a few years of study and Madhavi is in the final stages of wrapping up her PhD – still at the University of Sydney – which is focused on understanding the growth and demise of the Great Barrier Reef. She works in the University’s Geocoastal Research team which means loads of travel and fieldwork to collect samples along with dedicated research days. 

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“Within the space of a year I usually manage to fit in a visit to the reef and divide my time between various labs – including some overseas – offices and conferences,” she says. “I’m lucky to be in a discipline that allows me to do work in a variety of places.” 

Madhavi is amazed by all the new tech developments that have been introduced in the marine study space since starting her PhD only few years ago. “I’ve been involved in hyperspectral scanning projects [using drones equipped with cameras to scan the reef], which is fascinating,” she says. It’s also cool to hear from Madhavi that there seems to be a lot more diversity emerging too. “Academic positions are being targeted toward bringing in people with more diverse genders and backgrounds, and there are definitely more women appearing!”

 Madhavi’s Study and career pathway

>> Bachelor of Liberal Arts and Science, The University of Sydney

>> Bachelor of Arts and Science, The University of Sydney 

>> Bachelor of Science (Honours) majoring in Geography, Geology and Geophysics 

>> PhD, The University of Sydney 

This story was created in partnership with The University of Sydney

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