Antarctic Homeward Bound voyage inspires women leaders in science

If you’re a female scientist who wants to develop your leadership skills this could be the chance you’ve been waiting for.

Applications close on 20 February for women interested in joining the next Antarctic voyage of Homeward Bound, a unique program aimed at developing female leaders in science.

IMAS was well represented on the inaugural 19-day Antarctic voyage last year, which left Ushuaia in Argentina on 2 December.

Associate Professor Mary-Anne Lea helped to coordinate the on board science program and was joined by participants Molly Christensen, a technical officer at Taroona, and Nicole Hellessey, a PhD candidate studying Antarctic krill.

Here, Molly and Nicole share their stories as participants.

Molly's story

"On the 2nd of December 2016 I boarded the MV Ushuaia bound for Antarctica with 76 women in STEM, a team of leadership experts, a documentary team, and world renowned expedition leader Greg Mortimer.

Molly ChristensenNever have I experienced something as phenomenal as Homeward Bound.

Never have I been anywhere so wild, so remote, so disconnected from my support network and the world as I knew it.

Never did I think a network of women working towards the same goal for a common world could exist, but now it does and now more than ever the world needs the women of Homeward Bound.

Antarctica is not a common spot to hold a transformational leadership program but for so many reasons it worked and for so many more it was essential to success.

Drifting through icebergs, landing at scientific bases and watching penguins was amazing and really placed the urgency and plight of our planet at the forefront of my thoughts.

Three weeks on a ship, however, sharing bathrooms, meals and cabins while not seeing another soul was challenging.

Personally, I was developing strategy, visibility and leadership skills daily.

I was coached by some amazing people, and supported by some even more amazing women in science.

This network of women grew stronger each day in the land of the midnight sun.

On a ship, in the most rural and wild part of the world, 76 women discussed the hallmarks of great and effective leaders.

Penguins Great leaders are inclusive, collaborative, legacy minded and fiscally responsible.

Current leaders must ask themselves if they are considering the legacy they leave with a common purpose for humanity.

These ideals are common sense but not yet common practice. The question then is what can we do now? What will we do now?

Homeward Bound is a project in its infancy but by no means is it small, or lacking content, raw emotion, intent or impact.

For the next 10 years a 1000 strong cohort of women in STEM with a common and inclusive goal for our planet will be forged. I am proud to be part of such a project."

Nicole's story

"Sitting in a zodiac just 50 metres from a glacier tongue I can still remember the deathly silence.

Nicole HellesseyNot even the wind was howling in this remote bay of Antarctica.

The nine of us in this little boat all huddled down watching, listening, waiting patiently for something to happen, but unsure of what.

This is what it felt like going onto the ship for Homeward Bound. All of us unknowing and unsure of what was to come, but excited and ready for anything.

At first, it started as a deep rumbling, a distant groan in the ice. Then a giant booming before a thunderous crack and before we knew it a large chunk of ice had calved away right in front of us from the glacier.

We all watched and laughed and took pictures. We felt the waves rock the zodiac underneath us as we kept watch and laughed, exhilarated by it all.

“This is climate change in action” I thought to myself. “This right here, that ice breaking away in large sheets. That’s climate change.”

This is what it was like on the ship. Full of adrenaline. Full of hope and inspiration and laughter and friendship with everyone you met and talked too.

Homeward Bound was a bonding experience like no other. We were thrown into the deep end at the far end of the world together and it made our connections the stronger for it.

AntarcticaIt also fortified that we had to help fix this broken place before it was beyond the point of saving.

Whilst on Homeward Bound we were taught many things about being better leaders, about knowing ourselves more deeply so we couldn’t get rocked, about being visible to others as someone to aspire to or to call upon.

No one taught us what looking at a retreating ice sheet would look like; no one mentioned that the Palmer Station scientists we met now have to redirect their water as the ice melts too far away from their fresh water collection ponds. Sometimes we felt we had come too late to help.

Homeward Bound started the discussions about gender equity and equality in science and will continue to do so for many more years as this voyage was the first in a 10-year program to reach 1,000 women scientists from across the globe.

We have made progress on real ways in which to influence our institutes, governments and the wider community.

But for me, being there and seeing the ice quite literally melt and crack before our eyes is what I’ll always remember.

What good is having equal representation at the climate table when the world is braking faster than we are fixing it? Well, maybe having more women tackling the issues around climate change and climate policy might just spark an idea or start something that may not have happened if they weren’t there. Maybe the best hope for us is by working together, all of us.

The women on Homeward Bound were inspirational and truly all leaders in their own fields.

Each of the women was eloquent, dignified and graceful when they talked about what they studied be it river pollution, mental health, geology, gender issues or climate science.

Each and every one of those women gave me hope for our future. “If they are as passionate and intelligent and ready to fight as they seem then we might just make it. Together.”

Homeward Bound team

Authorised by the Executive Director, Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies
May 1, 2018