Dr Phoebe Meagher - Animal Conservation Superstar
This post is the first in an ongoing series that about amazing people in science in Australia. The posts are written as short stories that you can read to your kids. They are designed to inspire and excite children about the amazing possibilities for a STEM career. I would love to know if you enjoy these stories. So please pop a comment below and tell me what you think.
A love of "The Wild"
When Dr Phoebe Meagher was little she loved everything that was “The Wild”. Her passions were animals, being in nature and the ocean.
Growing up Phoebe was inspired by her grandmother who was an avid camper and collector of natural things. Together they would go camping in the Australian outback and spend time exploring the bush.
When she wasn’t out in nature, young Phoebe could be found engrossed in the pictures and articles in Australian Geographic. She was fascinated with the scientists who were featured and the work that they were doing. These were the inspirations that Phoebe carried from childhood into her adult life and her career.
The books in the series "Little People - Big Dreams" are terrific for inspiring children to pursue interesting occupations and to change the world.
Although Phoebe loved wildlife, it wasn’t until after she had finished her university degree that she realised that she could make a career that incorporated them. While she had always known that she wanted to work with animals, she hadn’t realised the range of possibilities that were open to her within a STEM career.
Finding a fit
So although Phoebe tried a range of jobs she found herself always drawn back to her love of animals and biology. It was these that took her on the path to becoming the Conservation Biologist and Research and Pathology Coordinator at Taronga Zoo!
These days Phoebe’s job is all about protecting and learning as much as she can about wildlife. She does it by working with individual animals that come into the hospital at the zoo and developing forensic tools to fight global threats to species’ survival.
Each animal that comes into the hospital provides a new learning opportunity. Often a single animal can provide information to many researchers, advancing scientific knowledge across several fields. Phoebe talks about the way that a single marine turtle found stranded can provide information to other scientists on the impacts of marine pollution, population genetics, food web interactions and that is just for starters. It’s pretty exciting stuff for any conservationist and animal lover.
There aren’t too many people who can say that they’ve been diving with sharks and tracked pangolins (pangolins are the only mammals covered in scales!) in the jungle but for Phoebe those things are all in a day’s work.
When she was sponsored by and made the cover story for Australian Geographic in 2018, she was incredibly proud to be featured in the very magazine that was her childhood inspiration. And as if things weren’t already exciting enough for her, she was then asked to present her research to the visiting Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan during their tour Down Under.
Despite all of incredible achievements and amazing experiences, Phoebe still has way more that she wants to do in her career. She is deeply committed to keep fighting against illegal wildlife trade and wants to see the forensic tools developed with her team being used by border forces in Australia and overseas to keep wildlife in the wild. She also wants to keep using science to communicate outside of the scientific and wildlife protection communities about what she is learning through her research.
Phoebe’s advice to young people who are interested in a STEM Career is that there are endless opportunities “follow what you love doing and don't be surprised if the path to your dream job is not straight, it often zig-zags for a reason so just go with it!”.
And what of the inspirational grandmother of her childhood? At 95 she still joins in research trips with the museum and continues to inspire her granddaughter.
With thanks to Science & Technology Australia who run the "Superstars of STEM" program for connecting me with Dr Meagher and also thanks to Dr Phoebe Meagher for her time in answering my questions.
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