Swineburne University of Technology
No bones about it: Changing the face of palaeontology
Before I started my PhD, fewer than 20 pterosaur bones had been described from Australia, and just two species had been named. In 2019, I named a new species of pterosaur, Ferrodraco lentoni, the most complete Australian pterosaur to date, with 30 bones equal to 10% of the skeleton.
My work with regional museums and non-profit organisations has aided in the discovery of some of Australia’s most significant dinosaurs. Describing Ferrodraco lead to the development of a new fossil display at a regional museum in Winton, which has been seen by thousands of visitors, inspiring the next generation of women and girls to pursue STEM.
Since starting my PhD, I have lived and worked on a 32,000 acre sheep and cattle station more than 100km from the nearest town.
Outside of my PhD project, I am creating a podcast focusing on STEM concepts and working as a science communicator.
My work benefits Queensland by highlighting the importance of regional and remote communities in STEM. Central-western Queensland is home to Australia’s most exciting dinosaur discoveries and unique fossils that haven’t been found anywhere else in the world. This includes the largest Australian dinosaur.
Queensland’s dinosaurs are 100 million years old and at risk of being lost from the world forever. That’s where my research comes in. My work with regional museums ensures these fossils are preserved for future generations and can be studied by the next generation of scientists. I do this through discovering new fossils, describing new species and working with regional museums and non-profit organisations to develop new exhibitions and educational materials for school-aged students. I also lead teams during excavations on dinosaur digs, provide technical advice on fossil preparation and promote the work of outback museums through high impact media releases.
One of my proudest contributions was naming the most complete pterosaur ever found in Australia, Ferrodraco lentoni. Within one month of publication, the article describing Ferrodraco had been accessed more than 10,000 times and was ranked as one of the top 100 downloaded papers for Scientific Reports in 2019 (of the almost 20,000 papers published that year).
The announcement of Ferrodraco garnered worldwide media attention, with the discovery featured by The New York Times, The Washington Post, Australian Geographic, BBC, CNN, Fox News, and Smithsonian Magazine, among many others. I also spoke directly with journalists from National Geographic, BBC Science, the ABC, The Guardian and The Brisbane Times discussing the scientific value of regional Queensland. I’m proud to be a scientist based in central-western Queensland and set an example to my peers that working in rural areas is not a limitation.
My work has shown that there are still many exciting discoveries to be made in STEM. I am committed to working as a palaeontologist in a remote area, demonstrating to women and girls what a career in STEM could look like, and transforming the palaeontology space, so that it is easier for the next generation of women and girls. I will continue to share my story with students of all ages through various outreach programs and community involvement. It is my sincere hope that in the coming years, by continuing to discover new species of prehistoric animal and fossil sites across Queensland, that I can promote tourism to remote parts of Australia. I am passionate about making STEM exciting and accessible, through collaboration with regional organisations and through science communication.
People are surprised when I tell them I’m a palaeontologist because of my gender, where I live or the way I look. They’re even more shocked when I say I’ve named a new species and work on dinosaurs!
I think there’s still this idea that all palaeontologists look like John Hammond from Jurassic Park. When mothers started telling me that their daughters want to become palaeontologists and study science, I knew I had found my calling. Through science communication and my research, I show women and girls that they can pursue a career in Palaeontology and STEM, make ground-breaking discoveries and have fun, meaningful careers.
My journey through university taught me that when one door closes, another opens.
In high school, I thought I had figured out the trajectory of my entire life, but that completely changed when I missed out on getting into Veterinary Science. I knew I still loved science, and that I was interested in studying animals, so I decided to follow my curiosity and studied biological and earth sciences at university.
Through following my love of STEM, I found palaeontology and have built a career that I am deeply passionate about. I think sharing my story with girls will help remind them that missing out on an opportunity isn’t the end of the world.
There’s so much pressure to be perfect, and fear around making mistakes. But really, our biggest lessons come from trial and error! What really matters is learning from our mistakes, staying curious, and exploring what we’re passionate about.
Throughout my PhD I have supported the work of others, including other PhD students, as well as recently completed Masters and Honours students. I do this because I would not be where I am today without the support and encouragement of the trailblazing and inspiring women who have supported and encouraged me throughout my journey.
I want to pay that privilege forward, and help students who are struggling to transition from undergraduate to postgraduate research. Living remotely on a large cattle station more than 100km from the nearest town has taught me the importance of connection. I want to support others, and connect women and girls with their passion, no matter where they live, so they can create meaningful careers.
Science communication goes hand in hand with my research.
I’ve recently recorded a podcast episode for an upcoming children’s science podcast called ‘The Fact Detectives’ which will air in March 2023. I spoke about pterosaurs and dinosaurs, as well as more generalised topics in paleontology to engage children with deep time and other STEM concepts.
Throughout my journey during university, I have actively volunteered promoting STEM through various activities, including:
- given countless presentations to citizen scientists preparing for dinosaurs digs through my work as a palaeontologist with the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum of Natural History
- speaking as a panelist at the Women of the World (WOW) Festival in Longreach in March 2022
- mentoring young girls from Longreach State High School as part of the WOW Festival
- sharing my story through the WOW Portrait Exhibition June 2022
- spoken at numerous schools, addressing entire cohorts promoting careers in STEM
- written half a dozen articles on palaeontology for the public
I also do podcast interviews to discuss Queensland-based palaeontology and STEM more broadly and regularly speak on Lost in Science on 3CR Community Radio. My pieces in The Conversation have been read over 88,000 times and I always seek opportunities to promote palaeontology and STEM more broadly across different platforms.
Work on the farm never stops and neither do I. In April I will be working with a small production team and feature in their film for the Very Short Film Festival. I am also currently creating content for my own palaeontology podcast, as well as a book.
If my application is successful, I plan to travel to palaeontology conferences and interview other inspiring women working in palaeontology. It is important to me that we continue to advocate for inclusivity in the paleontological community and make efforts to improve equity and diversity.
To do so in a meaningful and sustainable way, we must continue to engage with school-aged students and promote the importance of STEM. By starting a podcast and highlighting the work of others, it is my hope that I can help break the barriers that prevent historically minoritized groups from participating in science. This will encourage people from diverse backgrounds to pursue STEM careers, connecting students with their purpose and emphasize the value of science more broadly. I plan to use this platform to highlight other women and professionals working in rural and remote communities, as well as neurodivergent, LGBTQIA+ and non-binary scientists.