UQ Grad puts girls in the drone pilot seat for science careers
University of Queensland Geographical Science graduate, Dr Karen Joyce, is on a mission to get Australian girls into science – one drone flight at a time.
Dr Joyce is the co-founder of She Flies, a program that teaches school students – particularly girls - and their teachers to fly drones as a vehicle to inspire more people into science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) careers.
Now a senior lecturer in remote sensing and spatial science at James Cook University in Cairns, Dr Joyce said she started She Flies after becoming frustrated that women remained a minority in science, and were particularly under-represented in fields that fly drones.
“Over the course of my career, I have worked in government, industry and military settings using satellites and drones to map the environment.
“While the focus of my work might have been different across each sector, the thing that always remained constant was that I was one of only a handful of women in Australia to be flying drones or working in the remote sensing field.”
“Australia loses female talent at every stage of the STEM pipeline despite no innate cognitive gender differences – She Flies is on a mission to address this problem through a range of programs where girls can get hands-on experience in flying drones.”
She Flies offers training and ongoing support to educators to help them bring drones and real-life STEM applications into the classroom, and also conducts community events around the country to raise awareness of the gender gap in STEM.
With only 16 per cent of Australian university and vocational education STEM graduates female, and a mere 1 per cent of Australian drone pilots female, Dr Joyce said she hoped her program would eliminate stereotypes and bias in science and open up new opportunities for future generations of girls.
“She Flies is really taking off, attracting interest throughout Australia and the United States and I am hopeful that our events and support for teachers will spur more girls into science,” she said.
“Since I finished my PhD at UQ’s Remote Sensing Research Centre in the mid 2000’s, there has been a significant shift towards a more even representation of female and male graduates entering remote sensing and taking leadership roles within the profession – it’s a trend we would like to see continue.”
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The sky is no limit when your view is from space
The sky is literally no limit for John Tasker, a 2017 University of Queensland Science graduate and University Medal winner who now makes his living by analysing the earth from space.
The self-confessed lover of maps, the outdoors and technology, attributes his success to UQ’s outstanding research infrastructure, extensive exposure to field-work, and the opportunity to get hands-on with satellite imagery and spatial data within operational and research settings.
From his very first year of study, Mr Tasker seized opportunities within the university to gain practical experience - a strategy that he said paid off - helping him to take his learning from the lecture theatre to the real world.
“During the first years of my degree, I was lucky enough to gain work with the university in several research assistant roles, where I developed a guide to open-access spatial data sources, and generated coding solutions to analyse public transport smart card data,” Mr Tasker said.
“This early practical experience, combined with insights from my studies, enabled me to be engaged as a consultant on an outback station, helping property owners to integrate spatial technologies and mapping as part of their management and planning practices.”
The ambitious high-flyer, who is now employed as a Spatial Information Officer with the Queensland Government, said his favourite moments at UQ were those spent doing research.
“My honours thesis saw me undertake research in UQ’s Remote Sensing Research Centre where I developed a new approach to analyse and map vegetation structure from airborne laser data across Australia,” Mr Tasker said.
“I was highly motivated to undertake this work to improve protection and management of Australian vegetation and was proud to be awarded a citation for my efforts in the 2017 Queensland Spatial Excellence Awards.”
Mr Tasker said he would highly recommend a career in spatial science and earth observation, and urged young people to consider starting their journey at UQ.
“UQ’s mentoring programs, field trip experiences, and real-life work opportunities opened up the world for me,” he said.
“But best of all, I made lots of new friends, gained great exposure to expertise across many different fields of science, and had a lot of fun along the way.”
Visit future students to learn more about careers in spatial science and earth observation.