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From reefs to ice: A life changing journey to Antarctica

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05 June 2018

At age 28, Wing Chan was one of the youngest of more than 80 participants on what is a life-changing journey to Antarctica.

Like those before her, the Homeward Bound program for women in STEM has been an opportunity of self-discovery.

The final year PhD student at the University of Melbourne and the Australian Institute of Marine Science is working under the guidance of AIMS’ geneticist Madeleine Van Oppen. She is developing potential coral stocks with increased climate resilience via assisted evolution. The high-achiever, who is also a glider pilot and a commercial helicopter pilot, tells how the trip of a lifetime gave her clarity around her life and career.

Wing Chan in her words

The Great Barrier Reef and Antarctica are thousands of kilometres apart but some species are strikingly similar. I found it fascinating how marine life can evolve to adapt to the tropical waters of the Great Barrier Reef, yet some can also evolve to survive in the freezing water of Antarctica.

We visited Rothera station, which is the base of the British Antarctic Survey, and I was delighted when the resident marine scientists showed us their aquarium with Antarctic marine life including corals, sponges, sea spiders, sea stars, and sea lemons which are related to sea slugs.

The highlight of the Homeward Bound trip was meeting and bonding with other talented, passionate and inspiring women and of course, having the opportunity to explore a relatively untouched part of the world was a privilege.

I discovered a lot my about my strengths and weaknesses as a leader and I learned how to lead more constructively and efficiently.

I discovered more about my core values in this trip. Our core values drive our decision making, yet we often don’t know exactly what they are. I always make plans but I never thought about my core values, and whether or not my plan aligned with these values. Now having recognized my values and aspirations, I feel a strong clarity about my life and my career.

The participants came from a very diverse background - including Nobel laureates in physics to marine biologists, ecologist, science communicators, policy makers, and investment analysts.

I received questions about my research from all these different angles and these challenged me to look at my research from a broader and more holistic context.

I would definitely recommend other women in marine science take the chance to make this trip if they can.