Homeward Bound: the women on an epic Antarctic journey

By Kashmi Ranasinghe

14 November 2019

5 minute read

An image of Antarctica. There are emperor penguins in the background and the foreground.

A trip of a lifetime to Antarctica? Yes please!

What do you get when you combine science, aspiring female leaders and an epic journey across Antarctica? Homeward Bound.

The program unites women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) from around the world. Participants embark on a year-long training program which culminates in a three-day leadership course in Argentina. It’s then followed by the piece de resistance – a 22-day program exploring Antarctica.

Now in its fourth year, Homeward Bound gives participants additional skills to lead and influence decision making. One hundred participants from 33 countries are participating this year. And this is the most diverse representation of STEM fields to date!

But we’ve got an ace up our sleeves – six of our scientists will be on this voyage.

Let’s go back, back to the beginning

So, what is Homeward Bound? Fabian Dattner and Jess Melbourne-Thomas created the program. Fun fact: Jess is one of our ocean scientists in Hobart. If that isn’t enough of a name drop for you, she’s also Tasmanian Australian of the Year for 2020.

Long story short, they made their dream into a reality and got the project off the ground. It gained enough traction to go viral in 2016.

Why focus on women in STEM? We know that women are underrepresented in leadership positions. Even with systemic changes and more conversation about gender equality, change has been slow. This is acute in STEM where women are not as present in leadership positions compared to other fields. Jess and Fabian believe that empowering women in STEM with leadership tools and a strong female network would enable them to lead and have more impact.

That’s super cool and all, but why Antarctica? It’s no secret that climate change is contributing to the melting of the icecaps. Additionally, we’re seeing pollution, waste, habitat destruction and natural disasters impacting the area. Importantly, the region offers an opportunity to observe and analyse the influence of human activities on the environment. And provide key insights into its solutions. So why not get some of the brainiest in the bizz to have a look whilst also developing their leadership skills?

Who are our superstars on their homeward bound journey?

Amelia Tandy, Project Support Officer

A photo of Amelia Tandy

Amelia Tandy

After studying marine biology at uni, Amelia jet-setted around the world. She lived in Johannesburg and Amsterdam where she worked with non-government organisations developing her science policy skills. Stay tuned to find out more about what Amelia hopes to get out of Homeward Bound. And why the boots she’s packing are causing some scratching of heads.

Bianca Das, PhD Student

A picture of Bianca Das

Bianca Das

Growing up in New Zealand, Bianca developed a keen awareness of ‘Kaitakitanga’ or ‘guardianship of the land’. This led her to research how to better understand soil quality for global nutrition. She quantifies nitrous oxide emissions from dairy soils, improving how good nutrients can infiltrate soil with a high salt and saline content and reducing nitrogen losses in sugarcane systems.

 

Clothilde Langlais, Research Scientist

A photo of Clothilde

Clothilde Langlais

Clothilde, or Clo, is a physical oceanographer and a modeller here at CSIRO. She started her career looking at how the ocean interacts with each other. Now she’s focused on multidisciplinary coastal projects. These projects analyse the impact, adaptation and management of our coastal resources. Click here to hear more of her story.

 

Karen Aitken, Principal Research Scientist

A photo of Karen Aitken

Karen Aitken

Karen leads the Sugarcane Improvement Team for us where she focuses on understanding complex plant genomes and polyploidy. She is also the Principal Investigator of a US Department of Energy community science project that is sequencing the sugarcane genome. The thing she loves more than sugarcane? Promoting women in STEM.

 

Samia Elfekih, Research Scientist/Engineer

"A picture of Samia Elfekih

Samia Elfekih

Samia graduated as an engineer, but decided she wanted to do more. She pursued her dream of becoming an international researcher. Fulbright awarded her a fellowship to conduct her PhD in genetics. Samia followed that up with a UNESCO-L’Oréal fellowship at the Imperial College London. Now she investigates ways to biocontrol vector-borne diseases like dengue fever and malaria. But there’s something record-breaking about her. Click here to see what it is!

 

Dr Samantha Burnham, Senior Research Scientist

A picture of Samantha Burnham

Samantha Burnham

Samantha’s also saving the world. She’s an engineer turned data analyst trying to explain the early-stage markers of Alzheimer’s disease. How? Read more how she’s creating one map, but following a different one for Homeward Bound.

We’re supporting women in STEM to take their place

We’re all about women in STEM taking their place. Subsequently, we can build momentum towards achieving the shift in leadership models our world needs. Here at CSIRO, we’re driving long-term gender equality with our Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) plan. The plan includes 90 actions, big and small, to drive change at work and beyond.