Tell us a little about yourself – what are you passionate about?
My name is Sally, and I am currently doing my Masters of Research in Archaeology (think human history) and Palaeontology (think fossils) at Macquarie University, Sydney! I love learning about the incredible people, animals, and landscapes of the past (with a soft spot for dinosaurs). I love sharing my passion of science and past with as many people as possible, which has allowed me to connect with people and organisations all over the world.
I enjoy travelling all across the country and world, and studying the connections between modern and ancient people, places, and environments. This travel has also led me to my love of the ocean and scuba and freediving with as many massive animals as possible (to me, swimming with whales and sharks is my favourite thing to do!). Pursing a career in STEM has been incredibly rewarding, and has opened my eyes to so many incredible opportunities and ways of thinking that I never even would have considered otherwise.
Where did you grow up? What is your earliest memory of science?
I grew up on a cattle farm near a very small rural town called Gunning, that is about an hour north of Canberra. In my Primary School (of 65 students), I was one of two girls in my year, and there were very little role models or exposure to STEM at all.
My earliest memory about science (well, dinosaurs, maybe not science) was when my mum took my sister and I to one of the local cattle sales – I was maybe four years old. She was busy looking at cows to buy, and so she sat my sister and I under a tree with a bucket of plastic toy dinosaurs and we had the best time playing with them all afternoon. I never really stopped being interested in dinosaurs (and later the rest of STEM) since!
What did you do after you left school?
During Year 12, I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do (which is totally okay). I liked reading, so I was trying to find ways to get into editing and publishing, but couldn’t find anything that was quite right. I ended up taking a gap year where I spent time working at the National Dinosaur Museum in Canberra, and travelling for several months. When I went back to the drawing board of what I actually enjoyed doing, I remembered that I had loved my Ancient History class in Year 12, and had also really enjoyed working at the museum, so I decided to try finding somewhere that I could study both of those things. This then led me to my undergraduate degree in Egyptian Archaeology and Palaeontology at Macquarie University!
What do you do now?
Right now I am about to start my Masters of Research thesis at Macquarie University that will look at how the Australian community thinks about Indigenous artefacts and fossils. I also work at the Australian Museum in programming, and at Macquarie University as a tutor and a Student Ambassador, speaking to students from all over the country and encouraging them to pursue university studies here. I also do mentoring for girls through the Harding Miller Education Foundation. Between all these positions, and managing to fit in some dives and surfing, it’s safe to say I love keeping busy!
Tell us the story of your proudest achievement;
As part of my Masters, I designed and built my own website (something I had never thought I could do) called FoundaFossil.com. This project was a huge undertaking in a lot of skills that were foreign to me, but I managed to produce a great resource that I am immensely proud of. The website is an educational platform that aims to connect individuals and communities with the right information and resources for what to do if they ever discover an Indigenous artefact or fossil. Already the site has connected me with so many amazing people from all over the globe who share my passion for learning about, and protecting, the incredible objects of the past and the stories they can tell.
Why did you become a Curious Minds STEM Coach?
Growing up in a small rural town, there were very few role models around in STEM, and even fewer that were women. Having since landed in a career in STEM, I think I would have benefitted so much if I had had a mentor or coach that would be a role model, showing me all the possibilities available for women in science. I figured that now was my opportunity to be this role model for other girls looking to go into science.
What advice would you give to current female students thinking of pursuing a career in STEM?
Do what you love. Finding and following your passion is so important for your future career, and also your future happiness.
It’s never too early, or too late, to start trying things out to see what you like and don’t like. Try doing multiple work experiences, short online courses, or research, and talk to as many people as possible! And never be afraid to change your mind!