She was applying for mature-age entry into one of the country’s most competitive journalism degrees. She was a sole parent to a one-year-old boy. And her portfolio was thin – consisting of just one travel story about a trip to India.
Yet, this one piece encapsulated her reason for being here, in this office.
Summer had travelled across the Indian subcontinent as a 22-year-old. In India, she studied Tibetan Buddhism and became engaged to a Nepalese man she had met in Sydney.
She also fell very ill. She remembers recovering in Pokhara, Nepal, where her room had a view of the lake. Fishermen in white singlets steered their boats across the still water.
“I was looking at this one man in his boat. And I found myself wondering about him. What was his life? How did he come to own this boat? What did he dream of becoming?” Summer said.
“That’s when I decided I wanted to tell the extraordinary stories of ordinary people. It felt like a calling, my purpose. When I came back to Australia, I was determined to study journalism.
“The head of journalism must have seen the fire in my belly because she gave me a place in the program,” she laughed.
Work like you don’t parent…
Summer graduated from Murdoch University in 2005, within the top five per cent of journalism students. By then, her son was eight years old. She had spent several years studying part-time, working part-time, and parenting full-time. “It was hard work, but we both look back on those years fondly,” she said.
Over that time, her portfolio swelled from her placement at the Fremantle Herald and freelance articles. Moving to Darwin, she would go on to work with ABC Darwin and NT News.
However, while journalism was her true love, Summer was soon forced to confront some hard truths. It wasn’t a profession that supported family life.
“The workplace was very different back then. There were no flexible working arrangements. You were expected to work like you didn't parent and parent like you didn't work,” Summer said.
Having a double major in journalism and public relations, she was offered a digital content role with Charles Darwin University and started managing social media. She immediately loved the digital environment.
“I see myself as a writer who moved with technology. Universities were some of the first movers in using social media for brand engagement. So it was very experimental and a lot of fun,” Summer said.
She was on the path to working with us.
Scientific approach to social media
Summer joined CSIRO as our Editorial and Content Manager in 2019. She inherited well-established social media channels. But she saw an opportunity to embed a data-driven, test-and-learn approach to bring more experimentation and innovation to our science communications. This included using pop culture references, memes, TikTok trends, and videos to connect through creative storytelling.
"Science communication is such an interesting craft. You're taking complex scientific information and translating it into simple, accessible, searchable and relevant content," Summer said.
"It's about making the research findings understandable to everyone, regardless of whether or not they have a science background."
Experience had taught Summer there was real value in connecting with the audience you already had, not just those you wanted to reach. She also recognised our followers were very diverse across the different channels. They did, however, have something in common.
“The unique thing about CSIRO, in my experience, is how much people love the organisation. Every other day we get feedback about how the social team deserves a pay raise, or how a post made someone’s day,” she said.
"We had this comment the other day: "...when I see that little blue circle with 'CSIRO' written in it, I know it's gonna be okay."
Diverse and dynamic
The rise of science social media platforms has transformed how researchers engage with the public. And CSIRO is often considered the gold standard for science communications, particularly in the Australian government.
Summer leads a team of dedicated social media experts (Rachel Lee and Tess Corkish), videographers (Henry Stentiford and Elendil Archer), and digital communication specialists (Smriti Daniel and Felicity Kelly).
“My team make it look easy, but effective social media starts with a clear strategy and purpose, and then gets super creative. It's a combination of art, science and taking calculated risks. You need to know your community, but there are always surprises," Summer said.
“Wombat Wednesday started as an experiment. It looks sweet but it’s about building brand trust and engagement.”
Having been ‘on the tools’ before moving into leadership roles, Summer appreciates a level of creative freedom. It’s what she offers her team.
“I really value all the diverse perspectives my team bring. There’s a lot to be said for 25 years of experience, but that doesn’t mean I know what’s cool on TikTok with Gen Z right now. I need the specialists in my team to keep me updated,” Summer said.
“We’re very collaborative and everyone ends up contributing to a piece of content that none of us could have created by ourselves.”
Supporting her team also means being aware of the emotional toll the job can exact.
“When there's vitriol coming back about certain topics or people, it can really affect you. Sometimes there isn't enough acknowledgement of that. Social media folk are really on the frontline of customer service,” Summer said.
As she’s grown as a leader, Summer’s focus has also shifted. As a mentor and coach, she prioritises helping her team realise their professional and personal goals. And as our channels continue to evolve, she’s looking forward to another packed year and many chances to be creative, collaborative and courageous.
“I really want to be the best leader I can be for my team and the organisation. That’s where I find joy now,” Summer said.