Dr Danielle Medek is one of 76 researchers going on a much-anticipated, all-female expedition to Antarctica – but this time the scientists are the subject, as part of a study on the possibilities of women in leadership.
Nursing a flat white at her local café in Mairangi Bay, Auckland, Danielle, does not seem to think she will miss her creature comforts on a trip to Antarctica, in a ship leaving from Argentina in December.
Thinking of the 20-day ship journey she fondly says: “I love the noises, smells, rocking and everything.”
See, it’s not her first time to Antarctica. The researcher and junior doctor at North Shore Hospital has been to the ice-covered continent once before. Since she did “a little bit of opportunistic moss research”, while studying subantarctic grasses for her PHD, she has had “actual dreams” of returning.
On this very trip she met a relative of Dr Jess Melbourne-Thomas, co-founder of Homeward Bound, and researched the project via social media. Homeward Bound aims to enhance the impact of women in science and sustainability through leadership programmes. Its educational trip to Antarctica will see Danielle and company visit a range of different stations and scientists.
It’s taken a whole year to prepare for this maiden voyage. It’s part of a ten-year programme that hopes to send 1,000 women to Antarctica and school them in leadership along the way.
“Women can be more collaborative,” says Danielle, 34. “I guess they can also think about their longer term. There is a lot of research on it, I’m not completely on top of all that, but that’s what I’ve experienced.”
However, it’s hard to imagine Danielle not reading up on that research. Looking up from her cat-eye shaped spectacles she says: “If I get a little bit of data I want to correlate it. It’s just a nerdy fascination.”
Danielle has worked in women-lead teams before, in an Australasian network of pollen researches. What started as “my little online survey”, looking into how climate changes affect pollen and hay fever symptoms, has become part of an Australasian wide app and it’s just received a four-year grant.
Having researched how plants adapt to their environment and how they cope with stress Danielle is now “sort of doing that but from a human perspective”. As part of the Homeward Bound project she is working with a group of five women to find the role females play in climate change policy.
“The countries that perform better in terms of more women equality also perform better in terms of their climate change targets and meeting those.”
Although the scientists come from all over the world, they work in areas that require travel and Danielle is acquainted with most of the crew already. She is one of four Homeward Bound scientists based in New Zealand and has recently moved to Auckland herself. Born in Brisbane, she has spent the last 12 years in Canberra, other than a stint at Harvard in America.
As well as seeing the penguins again, Danielle is looking forward to networking. “I’m the kind of person who is a connector – I like to bring other people together and recognise other peoples skills and how they mix in together, rather than necessarily being aware of my own.”
One of her biggest interests is the interaction between health and climate change. She aims to feed back what she learns to the community through training outreach.
It’s a busy time for Danielle who is also crocheting little penguins to help fundraise for her trip. These are sold on her Penguin Offset blog, where Danielle says the population of penguins she knits will “offset any penguins inconvenienced by my trip”.
The penguins proved so popular with her comrades that Danielle is making one for each unique personality on the voyage. We are sure she won’t inconvenience any of these characters at least.