Lisa Kearney


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Lisa Kearney is an LA-ICP-MS Technologist at QUT Central Analytical Research Facility and PhD student at the Queensland University of Technology.

From coal to coral. I grew up around mining towns, first starting on a small mining Island in Papua New Guinea, where the beaches were made up of old fossil corals, and you would climb between them to get to the water. This started my first interest in sea creatures and the different environments they lived in. Then my family spent a long time a small coal mining town, Blackwater. We got to visit the mines and see the different processes used for extracting coal, including big blast events and digging the pits to get to the coal.

I always had an interest in how the environment and Earth interacted, I used to love collecting pretty shells and rocks, and was curious about things like how the huge mountains we see around us came to be.

After spending time working in the mines, I decided to go to university, I started off with a general science degree as I knew I liked science and ended up finding that geology (with a bit of environmental science) was the field for me.

Since then, I have completed my bachelors, honours and am currently completing my PhD in Geology/ Earth Sciences. My research interests are carbonate geology, with a focus in tropical reef geology.

My PhD focuses on geology of the Great Barrier Reef, looking at how the reef is formed and sticks together using petrographic and geochemical techniques. I want to know what happens from the earliest deposition of reef materials, through to the formation of the final cemented reef rock (limestone).

The overall project aims to gain an improved understanding of the processes of diagenesis in a modern marine environment by looking into the past. I love my project as I get to use cool techniques to look at reef samples, which are filled with fossils, from different locations and different ages (most are ~5, 000 years old).

We need more women in STEM, and that starts with getting girls with curious minds interested in STEM. Growing up in remote communities and small towns I wasn’t aware of all the different STEM careers or ways to get involved in STEM, I want to help passionate STEM-minded girls find out what’s out there for them. It’s important to let young girls know about all of the different STEM paths there are, and that it’s okay not to be interested in one STEM topic as there are many hybrid STEM careers out there that allow you to be a creative problem solver. I want girls to know that it’s okay to be different and there are many rewarding pathways that celebrate unique thinking.

I also think it’s important to let girls know that there are many ways to pursue your STEM passions, and that even with life’s obstacles, if you keep trying you can find your own path into a STEM career. When I was young, I faced many health issues which disrupted my school learning, but I was able complete Year 12 and continue onto university.

Throughout my university degrees I have dealt with Anxiety, I found ways to cope with this and was able to complete assessments. In the middle of my PhD, I was diagnosed with Endometriosis and had to undergo numerous surgeries, despite this I was still passionate about my PhD project and found ways to stay in the PhD program so that I can complete my thesis. I think it’s important that girls know the path into a STEM career isn’t always perfect, but through perseverance and seeking help when it’s needed, you can stay in a STEM career that you are passionate about.