Technologist (Griffith University)
Virtual Laboratories help protect and restore the planet
I lead a team building virtual laboratories that help protect and restore the planet. We streamline vast quantities of biodiversity, environmental and climate data into a secure space in the cloud where it can be analysed by cutting-edge ecological models using cloud compute and storage. With our virtual laboratories, people can either code in the cloud without the need of any expensive equipment or setup. If they don’t bring any coding or stats skills with them, they can quickly turn noisy data into high-quality results in an easy-to-use point-and-click environment. And for those who don’t know where to start, we offer training and example code. I am passionate about the work I do because building the platform of choice for ecological and environmental modelling empowers researchers and decision makers to spend less time on wrangling data and configuring models and more time on solving environmental problems.
The platform where researchers, students, educators, and policy decision-makers can access our tools to find data and analytics to protect and restore the planet is called EcoCommons Australia.
Launched in November last year at Australia’s largest ecology and conservation science conference, it is now at the fingertips of every Queensland researcher, student or practitioner. The digital innovation platform is hosted on one of the nodes of the national research cloud infrastructure located at the Queensland Cyber Infrastructure Foundation (QCIF) called QrisCloud. QCIF enables Queensland universities to use cutting-edge cloud compute and infrastructure for research and development. Griffith University is one of those universities. Griffith is not only the first university in Queensland to introduce an environmental science degree, but it is also the heart piece of the EcoCommons partnership where the platform is being developed based on the best available peer-reviewed science. The EcoCommons partnership has brought a $5 million investment from nine organisations including the Australian Research Data Commons (ARDC), the CSIRO Atlas of Living Australia, CSIRO, QCIF, and several universities to Queensland in 2020. The most prominent research income is the $1.6 million from ARDC which was matched by an equal amount from the Queensland Government via the Research Infrastructure Co-Fund to build the platform in Queensland.
Training the next generation ecological modellers is paramount which is why each year we deliver digital literacy and coding training at the Research Bazaar Queensland - a skills fair for students and young researchers from Queensland universities. Over the last 2.5 years, my team has trained over 450 researchers, students, and practitioners in the methods of ecological modelling, how to code in the cloud and how to use the EcoCommons tools of which 250 were based in Queensland. From the currently over 400 registered EcoCommons users, 20% are researchers and students at Queensland universities (Griffith University, The University of Queensland and QUT) and our userbase is growing each day. We have identified over 40 lecturers at universities who depend on EcoCommons for delivering their lectures and running assignments, 10 of which are based at Queensland universities.
I'm a Conservation Scientist who mobilises and interrogates data to craft solutions to environmental problems. Once I’ve identified those solutions, I put my Technologist hat on to translate ecology and data into policy impact by building digital innovation tools for data visualisation and environmental reporting.
I have obtained my PhD in 2013 for describing the coral reefs of a Colombian national park, producing 7 peer-reviewed publications, and finishing my doctorate in 2 years and 9 months.
During 2014 – 2016, I became an expert in marine conservation at The University of Queensland (UQ) by producing the first database containing information on costs and feasibility of marine restoration which now informs 20+ legislation documents.
In 2016-2020, I led a team at UQ’s Threatened Species Recovery Hub and collaborated with 49 project partners from 25 organisations across academia, government, and eNGO sector to develop the world-first Threatened Species Index (TSX) – a digital innovation tool producing a stock market index for Australia's threatened birds, mammals, and plants. Since its launch in 2018, the TSX has been used in government reporting on threatened species trends and was instrumental in the 2020 review of the Australian Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.
In 2020, I became a Technologist at Griffith University managing a $5m-3yrs investment into EcoCommons Australia. Here, I lead a team of agile software developers, scientists, science communicators, trainers, and data analysts to build the platform of choice for environmental problem solving.
In 2022, I was recognised by the Australian Research Data Commons, as one out of three women leading Australia’s Digital Research Platforms (https://ardc.edu.au/news/meet-the-women-leading-australias-digital-research-platforms/). In the same year, I was awarded the Women in Technology “Digital Mover and Shaker” Award acknowledging my leading-edge contributions at the interface of science, tech and innovation. 2022 was also a great year for my team as we won the Council of Australasian IT Directors Award for our “Excellence in Research Support” and also the Griffith University’s Vice Chancellor Award for our “Excellence in Enhancing Research”.
At the EcoCommons launch in 2022, the former Queensland Chief Scientist, Professor Hugh Possingham validated the impact of my work to STEM by stating: “If we don’t have a Threatened Species Index, how can we say how threatened species are going? If we don’t know where species are, how can we complain about the habitat that is being destroyed near our house? There is no democracy without information equity. And information equity is what EcoCommons is trying to deliver.”
I am strongly motivated and driven by the wish to collaborate, develop networks, educate, and share knowledge for the purpose of conserving biodiversity and promote a sustainable future for human, animal, and nature. I take every opportunity to mentor my team and especially highly ambitious young women in work-life balance and overcoming imposter syndrome – which is a big problem amongst women in academia and even a bigger one for women in STEM (and I have not been spared but learned some lessons which I share whenever I can – see my blog https://elisabayra.github.io/).
I have championed the development of the world’s first Threatened Species Index (https://tsx.org.au/). This project has a huge impact on the Australian Government (states/territory and federal) biodiversity policy and expenditure on species management. While I was developing the index, I engaged in one-on-one conversations with over 300 data custodians to convince them to share datasets on 254 threatened bird, mammal, and plant species from over 20,000 locations across Australia, and from more than 400,000 surveys carried out over 50 years. In return, I would clean and analyse their data and return it back to them with the trends on the species they monitor. One year after its launch in 2018, the tool became an official statistic of the Government’s Corporate Reporting. Dr Sally Box, the former Government Threatened Species Commissioner, said “The index would be a valuable tool to assist policy makers in understanding how threatened birds are faring”. The trends and data have informed the 2020 review of Australia’s Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act and were a centrepiece of the Australian National Audit Report in 2022.
My growing leadership skills, public profile and engagement can be evidenced by being a Fellow of the German Leadership Academy, a speaker on ABC news, Radio National, at Soapbox Science, Pint of Science, and BrisScience. I was also a presenter at TEDx Sydney Ideas Search and am currently applying to become a TEDx Brisbane speaker. Recently, I was an invited speaker at the Central Queensland 2022 Big Data Forum organised by the Fitzroy Authority Basin – one of Queensland’s leading national research management organisations engaging with local governments, industry, community groups and Indigenous groups.
In November 2022, I organised a scientific symposium on how virtual laboratories empower researchers and decision-makers as well as a public launch event of the EcoCommons platform at Australia’s largest ecology and conservation science conferences joined together. The launch program attracted 60 delegated to the scientific symposium, 150 to the public launch event with VIP speakers from Science, Policy Decision-Making, and National Research Infrastructure as well as 70 participants in our training workshops.
Over the last 3 years, I have been an active member of the Women in Technology organisation where I’m building my network of amazing women in Queensland from the all areas of STEM.
My personal mission is very bold and aligned with that of EcoCommons – I want to deliver science and lead the development of digital data-driven tools empowering researchers, practitioners, policy decision-makers and community groups to protect and restore the planet. I am all about science and tech for real-world impact.