ARC Discovery Early Career Research Award (DECRA) recipient & University of Technology Sydney Research Fellow
What is the big picture goal behind your research?
During my PhD in 2014, I discovered corals living in some of the most extreme conditions reported for extant coral reefs. Surprisingly, these corals were living in mangrove lagoons where the water was warmer, more acidic and with lower oxygen levels compared to the neighbouring reefs less than half a kilometre away.
My discovery of these highly tolerant coral populations, also known as Super Corals, has challenged our understanding of what conditions some coral populations can survive under. I have dedicated my research career to study these extreme corals, to try and uncover what allows these super coral to survive when reefs globally are degrading and dying due to climate change.
When did you get switched on to STEM, and how?
I always had a love for the ocean and knew from an early age that I wanted to be a marine biologist. Through activities and classes at primary school I was exposed to STEM and fell in love with science.
What is the coolest project you’ve worked on so far?
Leading the first National Geographic-Waitt Foundation Exploration on the Great Barrier Reef to look for extreme mangrove corals to study here in Australia. The unknown of what we would find and how it would potentially transform my research opportunities here in Australia was very exciting. We also had to brave 30 knot winds and crocodiles which adds some adventure!
Why do we need more women working in STEM?
We need the greatest pool of talent to ensure we have continued innovation to meet the growing environmental, political, and economic challenges facing our planet – Only by increasing the number of Women in STEM can this be achieved. Women also bring unique perspectives and ideas to research and companies that adds value to what they are trying to achieve.
Could you share some advice for students wanting to pursue a career in STEM?
Research online to see if there are any particular jobs that interest you, and try to find someone who is working in that position and reach out to them. Ask what they did to get that job, and do they have any advice, even internships that they could provide you with. Then be prepared to work hard and persevere to aim for that dream job. Be resilient!
What’s your dream job?
To run my own research lab focused on uncovering the mechanisms that facilitate coral tolerance under environmental stress.
What is something interesting or surprising about you that not many people know about?
I played Basketball for Great Britain for 8 years.
Emma’s career path:
>> Bachelor of Science (Honours) (Environmental Science and Chemistry), Belmont Abbey College, North Carolina, USA
>> Master of Science (Environmental Management and Business), Sheffield Hallam University, England
>> Founder, GAIA Environmental Services LTD
>> Lab Manager and Researcher, Central Caribbean Marine Institute, Cayman Islands
>> PhD (Environmental Science and Chemistry), University of Essex, England
>> Postdoctoral Researcher, Climate Change Cluster, University of Technology Sydney
“There are always set-backs and obstacles but if you work hard, with integrity and self-belief, anything is possible.”
Author: Larissa Fedunik-Hofman
Larissa is the editorial assistant for Careers with STEM and a Chemistry PhD student. Larissa’s goal is to promote public engagement with STEM through inspiring stories.