It’s been a year since our first Homeward Bound cohort of female scientists departed for Antarctica. Between the anniversary of the first voyage and the departure of the second on 18 February 2018, we’ll be sharing the stories of our inaugural participants and their journeys, in their own words, one year on. Their stories put faces to the facts about women in leadership, women in STEMM and what’s happening to our planet. Follow the stories on social media using #HBStories.


My mouth is dry as I stand in front of this impressive crowd to begin my presentation in November 2017. The room is filled with many senior people I haven’t met during my 8 years at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF), but whose names and titles I know. These are the folks (mostly male)who make the big decisions at UAF– a school in the far north with only 9,000 students, but a world-class reputation as global leaders in Arctic research. I am in good company.

“My name is Joanna Young, I am a PhD student. I’m here to share with you the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity I had as a participant on the inaugural expedition of Homeward Bound….”

I was one of the lucky ones on Homeward Bound Dec. 2016. After a handful of rejections, I found a funding agency who agreed to fund my attendance in full. In exchange, I made a promise to take good notes, and host a two-day mini Homeward Bound-style workshop for my university community on my return.

Needless to say, I felt overwhelmingly grateful, and indebted.

Fast forward to January  2017, I am back at my university with a generous budget from  my funding agency, a wonderful co-organizer – Jane, and the freedom to craft the workshop as I wanted. It dawns on me that: a) I’ve never organized a workshop before, and b) as incredible as the Homeward Bound training was, I would still not call myself a leadership expert. I have momentary fears that I may be in way over my head. But, I gently push those non-constructive thoughts aside with one of the best quotes I took from Homeward Bound: I may not have all of the confidence I would like, but I can certainly muster the courage.

Jane and I dive in. We craft a schedule, secure eminent speakers, recruit a graphic designer and find the perfect venue. We put out a call for applications, advertising 35 spots, and we wait. A week later we are sifting through 80 applications from diverse, qualified, deserving women. Now we know how the Homeward Bound organizers must feel!

At the end of August 2017, the Leadership Workshop for Early Career Women in Science brings together 35 members of UAF, ranging from graduate students through new associate professors and two of the university’s most powerful (male)staff. Session topics include ‘What is good leadership?’, ‘Best practices in workplace communication’ and ‘Community organising for the greater good.’

Feedback from the event is overwhelmingly positive, and several women later get in touch to share how it impacted their lives, from having the courage to ask for a raise to motivating them to call out workplace inequalities.

After the workshop, a self-organized group of attendees, including me, pen an open letter of recommendations for improving gender diversity among leadership at UAF. The letter garners 225 signatures, and receives positive coverage in our local newspaper and morning radio. It is well-received by UAF administration, and some recommendations are already being implemented, such as the formation of a Chancellor’s Diversity Task Force and the undertaking of an externally-conducted pay equity analysis across all UAF employees. We vow to continue pushing for more.

Back to the room full of top university admin.. I close by asking: “Given we had to turn away more than half of the interested applicants, when will we have the next workshop? Who will fund it?” I have trouble gauging the room, but I think I see an encouraging nod from the Chancellor.. When I get back to my desk, he has e-mailed: “You asked if we could support more workshops. We can.”

I have since met with him and been paired with a second supportive funding agency. To my bold-but-reasonable request to be paid at a non-graduate-student rate for organizing a second workshop, now with a proven track record? Another encouraging nod.

UAF is a small university and change can be slow. But, through small steps like these, our community is making progress. I thank Homeward Bound for equipping me with the courage to see the need to step up, and to contribute my part towards that progress.

I love to hear what the other 75 incredible women I met through Homeward Bound are doing in their communities, too. Armed with our courage and a set of skills to help pave the path to our goals, progress like this is happening globally in parallel, as each of us heads back home with what we learned at Homeward Bound.

Joanna Young is an outdoors addict with a love of mountains. Born in Toronto, Canada and with a background in Astrophysics (BS), Philosophy of Science (BA) and now Geophysics (MS), Joanna is a PhD student at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, USA, studying how Alaska’s glaciers are shrinking in climate change. Joanna is also Program Lead for Girls on Ice Alaska, a unique, free, mountaineering and science experience for underserved high school girls on a sub-Arctic glacier. Joanna also studies the impacts of Girls on Ice on perceptions of climate change. Outside of work, Joanna lives in a cabin, runs trails, skis the backcountry and rafts rivers, to keep up with her superhuman partner and be as close to the wilds as possible.

You can read more of the #HBStories from the inaugural cohort on the HB Blog.