Some may finish a trip across the notoriously wild Drake Passage a little worse for wear, but Amanda Davies is feeling invigorated.
A geographer at Curtin University in Perth, Australia, she recently returned from the largest-ever all-women expedition of scientists to Antarctica.
The inaugural December trip, including 76 women, was organised by Homeward Bound to promote women in science leadership. The travellers all came with different scientific backgrounds, from structural biology and astrophysics to geology and marine science.
According to Davies, friendships were formed “like nothing else.”
“You had no choice but to get along and chat about science after 20 days together in very close quarters,” she laughed.
Climate change was a topic foremost on the minds of those on the expedition, not least because they witnessed firsthand the scale of the changes occurring in the environment and the speed at which it’s happening.
“I couldn’t believe it until I actually saw it,” Davies said. “Also the plastic pollution — the absolute shock of seeing old soda bottles washing up on the Antarctic peninsula was very confronting.”
“It’s an absolutely pristine environment, except for our rubbish,” she added. “I’ve come back with renewed vigour to communicate science and to get the message out there.”
Getting to the ice
The trip set off from Ushuaia, Argentina on Dec. 2 across the Drake Passage. Davies admitted to a little seasickness, but the swells were forgotten once they reached Antarctica.
The women slept on the ship, which would relocate in the night. In the sunlight, they would set off in rubber dinghies to explore the icy continent, taking in glaciers, plunging crevasses and penguin colonies.
“It was just magic getting onto these remote, very exclusive localities and being able to explore,” she said.
There was very little trouble onboard, according to Davies, despite the hours of sea travel. “The landscape was so phenomenal, and the conversation was just unbelievably good and crisp and fresh all the time that you didn’t get bored,” she said.
Promoting women leadership in science
While she acknowledged the trip had attracted some criticism for being all-female, Davies has returned with energy to tackle the issue of women dropping out of science careers.
“About 52 percent of our graduates are female, and after 10 years, we’re getting down to 20 percent left in research and less than 10 percent of senior leadership positions,” she said. “It was about shining a light on that … so we can make sure all that investment we’re putting into people isn’t necessarily lost.”
On the trip, the women also received leadership training. The founder of the project, Fabian Dattner, told the ABC that for her, the trip was as much about leadership as science.
“Science touches every part of our current world, and every part of our future,” she explained. “The absence of women as leaders with a scientific background is bad for us all.”
It wasn’t only female scientists onboard. According to Davies, the ship itself was female-led, owned by a German woman Ute Hohn-Bowen and managed onboard by Monika Schillat.
“It was a bit of luck really, but it was really nice to have these two strong, independent females responsible for the whole thing,” she said.
Being on an all-women trip was also special to her personally. “For me, it was a joy being with other women because I am quite isolated working in the space that I do,” she explained.
“There are just not many females around. Now in my late 30s, there are few of us left.”
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