It’s been more than a year since our first Homeward Bound cohort of women in STEMM returned from Antarctica. We asked Sarah Brough, one of our inaugural participants, to tell us about her journey since completing the program in 2016, and the role the network of amazing women in her cohort has played as she steps courageously into her future.

HOMEWARD BOUND STORIES: SARAH BROUGH

I’ve been thinking a lot about what my Homeward Bound experience has meant for me – one year on. The thought I keep coming back to is that it has allowed me to be me *and* better. I’m not a different person, I’m not on a different trajectory but I am very clear about my goals and have taken a lunar leap forwards in achieving those.

I went to Antarctica with some vague thoughts about where I was heading professionally but I was struggling to believe in myself. I was getting in the way of achieving my own success. The teams I work in were producing lots of research papers and receiving citations. But although I was visible in the Australian astronomy community as a gender champion, I did not feel like a research success. I felt like a fraud.  As a result I was not making my research visible and was not building my own research profile – and for someone who loves to socialise, my personal life was very quiet in favour of work.

In Antarctica I worked on my visionary goal and a personal strategy map to lead me there. My visionary goal was to be visible for a new research strand to me – understanding the diffuse collections of stars that are ripped out in galaxy interactions. The back-story being to achieve this, I had to be very visible indeed.

I needed to engage with the only telescope sensitive enough to see these incredibly faint stars: a $1.3bn US telescope project currently under construction in Chile (the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope; https://www.lsst.org) as well as the science community associated with that project, whilst also persuading my Australian colleagues that buying into this project is valuable for all our science interests.

I came back from Antarctica with the confidence in myself – helped by knowing that I have an amazing crew of ladies at my back – to jump with two feet into the opportunities that contribute to my goal. To say no when necessary and to build joy in my life while I do that.

One year on I am the go-to person in Australia for the connection with this project. I have been voted onto the telescope’s Corporate Operations Committee; awarded US$25k funding to organise a workshop bringing together astronomers to solve a known issue with the telescope images and invited to contribute to a Nature Physics paper on galaxy science with this telescope.

I am reaching my goals and gaining confidence from trying and succeeding, as well as from brushing off the inevitable knocks and trying again.  In the next couple of years I will raise the AU$3m Australia needs to gain access to the data when the telescope starts observations in 2023.

I might have got here without Homeward Bound, but I would never have got here so quickly. I certainly wouldn’t have such a broad support network and I might never have experienced the beauty, sounds, smells and pure joy of Antarctica.

 

Sarah Brough is an observational astronomer focussed on how the most massive galaxies in the Universe grow over time. She undertook her PhD studies at Liverpool John Moores University in the UK. In 2004 Sarah moved to Australia to work at Swinburne University. Since 2009 she’s worked at the Australian Astronomical Observatory where she has been involved in several major surveys of galaxies using the Anglo-Australian Telescope. Sarah currently holds an ARC Future Fellowship. She is also the Chair of the Astronomical Society of Australia’s Inclusion, Diversity and Equity in Astronomy Chapter.

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