Deanne Bird is Research Specialist at the Institute of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Iceland. Her research spans from the natural to social sciences, mainly focusing on disasters in terms of social vulnerability, risk communication and preparedness and response strategies. She is an Editor of an Open Access book, Observing the Volcano World: Volcano Crisis Communication.
What is the biggest challenge you face as a woman in STEM?
In Australia, I have found a lack of female mentors within the field of natural hazards research. This is because men predominantly lead the research centres and funding bodies and, overwhelmingly, occupy management positions. As a result, men receive higher salaries and greater opportunities. While I am often physically based in Australia, my research position is with the University of Iceland, which is reputed to be one of the best countries to live in terms of gender equity. However, my University of Iceland colleagues alongside many other women, men and children are still fighting to end income inequality and sexual harassment in the workplace (http://kvennafri.is/en/front1-en/). To achieve gender equity, we require a significant culture change, within the home and among society more broadly. My point is, the challenges we face as women aren’t isolated to working within STEM; they impact many aspects of our lives.
What have you seen as changes that have happened among women in STEM?
Gender equity is a more frequent topic of discussion, which is raising awareness of issues and leading to tangible actions to redress the imbalance. There are many intelligent and capable women ready to step into management, executive and directorial positions. And it is great to see this already happening. I am lucky that most of my international research relates to the field of volcanology where, in my experience, there is good representation of women in leadership positions and across related fields, from geology, geochemistry and modelling, to archaeology and risk communication. I feel that we still have quite a way to go, particularly within specific fields of natural hazards research, and we will not achieve true equity until the internal cultures around gender equity shift.
Did you have a role model who influenced your decision to work in STEM - either inside or outside your field?
I have had, and still have, many role models but the most prominent are my parents. My mum was a high achiever in her chosen field and showed that anything is possible if I put my mind to it, and my dad inspired me to investigate and appreciate the environment around me. To me, gender was never a factor when deciding to study science. I enjoyed science, I was good at it and my parents fully supported me following my dreams.
What is one change that, in your opinion, would hugely benefit aspiring women scientists?
For the world to become a fair and equitable place for all!
What is the best advice you have ever received?
My mother always said to me, “you can’t do everything.” I often ignored her advice and signed myself up for every opportunity to further my career. But I’ve learnt that mum is right, I can’t do everything, and I shouldn’t have to. It’s important for me to maintain a healthy work/life balance while striving to reach my goals.
Tell us about your background
I am a Research Specialist at the Institute of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Iceland. My research spans the natural and social sciences, with a key focus on enhancing our understanding of disasters in terms of social vulnerability, risk communication and preparedness and response strategies. This work sits at the interface between science and policy and requires multidisciplinary collaboration within the academic sciences as well as government officials, policy makers, community leaders and at-risk populations. An excellent example of this collaboration is the recently published book ‘Observing the Volcano World: Volcano Crisis Communication’ of which I was a Lead Editor with Dr Carina Fearnley.
I hold a BEnvSc degree from Macquarie University, Sydney and a PhD awarded as a co-tutelle agreement between Macquarie University and the University of Iceland. My journey into academia took a rather convoluted eight-year path from high school. Among other professions, I worked as an Aquarist at an aquarium on the Great Barrier Reef – essentially, I worked as a self-taught marine biologist for five years. While in this role I began my university degree in Applied Science at James Cook University, Cairns. It was at JCU that I developed my passion for the study of natural hazards, which was spurred by Professor Jon Nott and his first-year Environmental Science lectures that always seemed to include a case study example of research on tropical cyclones. Coupled with my firsthand experience of bushfires in Sydney and cyclones in Cairns, I realised that this was an area in need of my attention.
I moved from JCU to Macquarie University to further my opportunities and it was there that I met Professor Damian Gore who inspired me to fulfil my desire to study natural hazards by enrolling as an exchange student at the University of Iceland. One semester in Iceland turned into almost eight years of living there and introduced me to another prominent role model in my life, Professor Guðrún Gísladóttir. During our 12-year working relationship, Guðrún has inspired and motivated me on both an academic and a personal level. The latest output from our collaboration is a recently published paper entitled ‘Responding to volcanic eruptions: from the small to the catastrophic’ in Palgrave Communications.