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By  Tracy Taggart 31 May 2023 2 min read

Key points

  • Through the JCU-CSIRO Indigenous Undergraduate Traineeship program, Indigenous students are getting a taste of research and science beyond the classroom, helping them solidify their career goals.
  • Arrernte man Jake Papadopoulos combined his love of maths with his love of marine science in a reef conservation project. Now, he wants to aim for a PhD.
  • Brataualung woman Courtney Burns's traineeship project was shark research in our predator population division. Her studentship has given her the confidence to pursue a career in science.

Taking maths to marine science

It didn’t take Jake very long to work out that marine science wasn’t quite right for him. The Arrernte man from Mparntwe (Alice Springs) and James Cook University (JCU) student was more interested in numbers and logic. So, he transferred from a Bachelor of Marine Science to a Bachelor of Science with a maths major and physics minor.

Jake jumped at the opportunity to undertake a CSIRO Indigenous Undergraduate Traineeship. He worked on a project using wave modelling software to investigate reef conservation, which was a perfect fit as it tied together original and current study disciplines.

Jake wants to get a PhD and become an academic.

Jake's research project was investigating the effect of reef restoration on the attenuation (reduction of the force) of wave energy, and what that means for habitats like seagrass and mangroves.

“My supervisor had already collected the data. So, my role was learning how to use and apply the SWASH (Simulating WAves till SHore) wave modelling software,” Jake said.

“My placement was around 15 weeks in total. During that time, I learned how to properly complete a literature review and improved my skills in coding. I now have a better understanding of how to undertake a research project. By juggling uni commitments with my CSIRO research, I’ve improved my time management skills. And I’ve got some valuable experience working remotely, including working with people in different time zones.

“The experience has definitely influenced my career goals. I kind of knew what I wanted to do, but it’s much clearer now. I want to complete a PhD and become an academic. I want to do mathematical modelling in a marine setting because I really enjoyed it,” Jake said.

“The studentship is perfect if you can find a research project that lines up with your interests. It provides a taste of a research career, even if you decide that research is not for you.”

Jake is grateful to our staff Megan Saunders, Maria Vozzo, Stephanie Contardo, Fiona Smallwood and Ally Lankester for their support.

Shark research for Courtney

Courtney dressed for the job she wants: marine scientist.

Courtney is a Brataualung woman from the Guanikurnai nation in south Gippsland, Victoria. She is a third-year marine science student at JCU.

She undertook her studentship as a research technician in our predator population division, working out of Townsville, with supervisors based in Tasmania.

“Throughout my studentship, I learned data analysis and different coding functions. I also learned about great white shark anatomy and various dissection tips via attending a necropsy of a juvenile male,” Courtney said.

“I’ve also learned general job skills around teamwork, organisation skills, work skills and computer proficiency.”

But studying science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) wasn't just about the technology and the practical work skills for Courtney.

“Being an Indigenous woman in STEM has led me to suffer a severe case of ‘imposter syndrome’ throughout my studies. I am constantly wondering if I’m good enough to make it in such a competitive field of study and research.

“Doing work experience with CSIRO has allowed me to believe in myself and push through the confidence barriers I’ve been facing in the last two years. It has made me excited for when – not if – I have a career in research.”

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