Arlie McCarthy, 2017 David Turner John Monash Scholar, has been accepted to go on the Antarctic expedition, Homeward Bound. She is a marine ecologist, interested in animals like mussels, barnacles and crustaceans that live on the seabed or on human structures like ships. She researches human impacts on marine environments, especially in polar regions. Her current research focuses on the risk of introducing non-native marine species to Antarctica, especially via biofouling on ships. We spoke with Arlie about her professional journey since receiving the John Monash Scholarship, this new opportunity and what leadership means to her.
Congratulations on being accepted to go on the Antarctic expedition, Homeward Bound! Why was this opportunity especially important to you?
Thank you! Homeward Bound is a leadership program, but it is also much more. Homeward Bound focuses on bringing women together to create better outcomes for the planet. The emphasis on collective leadership and developing projects together contrasts with more traditional (western) ideas of a sole, charismatic, strong leader that I felt never really aligned with who I am. And, of course, the future of our planet and the various crises that we are currently tackling are topics very close to my heart that I try to address in my work every day. I study the risks to Antarctica posed by invasive species so the possibility of going to Antarctica as part of this program is the icing on the cake!
How will this new experience take the career trajectories of women in STEM to new heights?
Homeward Bound is building a network of 10,000 women in STEM around the world, with a view to long-term change and collaboration. Visibility is an important focus of the program because women are under-represented in positions of leadership, and increasing visibility and mentorship can help address inequalities. Importantly, Homeward Bound is also an alumnae network that conducts collaborative projects, supporting women in new career trajectories and working together to address questions of sustainability and inequality.
You are currently a Postdoctoral Researcher at Helmholtz Institute for Functional Marine Biodiversity (HIFMB). How does Homeward Bound amplify and support your current research?
Although there is quite a lot of research on non-native marine species, and there are certainly researchers studying Antarctic biology, I am one of a very small group of people worldwide who are looking into non-native marine species in Antarctica and the potential problems they might cause. So I find myself on a wide range of projects, talking to people in biofouling management, sustainable tourism, interfacing with policy-makers, talking to ships operators, national Antarctic programs, and researchers in many countries. While I love interacting with so many people and fora, and drawing links between different organisations and disciplines, I also often wonder if I am spending my time on the right things and how I can be most effective. Homeward Bound supports women to reflect on topics like whether we are our own harshest critics, and whether we've internalised assumptions about what women can and can't do. I hope this element of the program will give me the confidence and courage to become a more impactful scientist. And perhaps I'll even get the chance to see what is growing on the hull of the expedition ship!
How is leadership incorporated into this initiative?
Leadership in Homeward Bound is about developing a personal leadership practice. Yet leadership is only one stream of the Homeward Bound program, which also includes strategy, visibility, and science streams. Together these streams create a holistic program to help us develop the skills required to make better decisions, demonstrate the value that we bring, and become more effective leaders. Through the science stream, we will also learn from each other about emerging topics in different fields of STEM and work collaboratively.
How has being a John Monash Scholar and now being accepted into this expedition highlighted your importance of valuable communities?
Becoming a John Monash Scholar was a turning point for me. The application process and the belief in me shown by strangers reviewing my application and on the interview panels set me on a path to slightly re-think who I was and how I could try to make a difference in my field. In the Monash Scholars (and wider organisation) I found an inspiring and supportive community that has nudged me when I didn't have the courage to put myself forward. In fact, Annemarie gave me the nudge to apply for Homeward Bound! In Homeward Bound I hope the involved group program and collaborative projects will allow me to reflect on my path so far and develop strong ties to another supportive and inspiring community.
Outside of this experience, what are your plans for this upcoming year?
I am quite excited about what I am doing this year for work! I am currently on a field trip in Punta Arenas, Chile and I just had two weeks in the Falkland Islands. I am collecting local mussels and biofouling samples from the hulls of ships that have been to Antarctica. It's the end of the Antarctic season so it seems there's another ship coming through almost every day! I'll need to dash back to Germany in time to collect more samples from a ship there, too. So, having now settled into my role at HIFMB I'm excited this year to be collecting samples and data and working on projects that I started at HIFMB. It can take a long time to get the ball rolling on new projects so I'm thrilled to see these projects gain momentum. I find my current workplace has a great attitude to all aspects of life as a researcher, including holidays and work-life balance, so I know I will go on a hike or two and a rock-climbing trip somewhere in Europe.
What makes this expedition a unique, once in a lifetime experience?
For most people, going to Antarctica is a once in a lifetime experience and I am very grateful for the opportunity to join this expedition. Going with a collective purpose, and meeting in person over 100 other participants that I will get to know remotely over the next year will be particularly special. Antarctica is both one of the places on earth least impacted by human activities, and yet also heavily affected by our long-ranging, global impacts. Antarctica is a constant reminder that our impact reaches well beyond local or regional areas.