Monday, November 8, 2010

Bushfire CRC

Tomorrow I’m off to Sydney to present at the Stakeholder Council for the Bushfire CRC

I’ve been asked to give a short talk about what the CRC did for me as a student, the benefits of being a student with them and to reflect on my time as a student.

Where to begin…



Background for none CRC people
The Bushfire CRC’s mission is to enhance the management of the bushfire risk to the community in an economically and ecologically sustainable manner. Initially in 2003 they were funded through the Australian Government’s CRC combined with substantial partner resources. An extension has been acquired to 2013 to address the key issues raised by recent major fires. Back when I applied in 2004 the CRC advertised research opportunities for students hoping to produce the next generation of fire researchers.


So here’s the current draft of my brief talk

My PhD topic is about the effect of fire on sediment movement in the Mount Lofty Ranges, South Australia.

For a moment I might rewind you back in time a bit.

My old nickname given to me by the RFS (Rural Fire Service) was the 18 year old with a degree. At the time I was in my 20’s and working for NSW National Parks as a fire technical officer.  I was great with a computer especially GIS, average with a rakehoe and in RFS terms young in experience, especially when it came to ICS planning roles. National Parks would hold fire manager workshops where scientist would come along and teach us the latest greatest stuff. I’d sit there and wonder why they wouldn’t give me a yes/no answer that was needed for policy development, rather they would provide a wishy washy answer with lots of limitations. I was lucky to be invited to Project Vesta as a visiting research scientist which was an exceptional view into fire science.

10 years later married with two kids and three interstate moves the Bushfire CRC provided the inspiration to start a PhD. I’d always wanted to understand how and what the researchers were on about so I applied. First I obtained the APA to secure funding then the Bushfire CRC offered project support of $15,000.  Later they also proved a top-up for one year. As I’m mostly part-time top-ups are not available to students. So I come for a bargain price of $25,000 plus conference expenses. In return I have provided six years of my attention to the topic of erosion post-fire.

I was gutted the CRC would not give me a top-up as I was pregnant and intended to study part-time. I knew full well that I could not study a PhD fulltime, nurture an embryo, give birth, raise three kids, support my hubby and keep a functioning home. I honestly thought the CRC scholarship could be as flexible as the Commonwealth Government APA. I was wrong. I found this info out too late. I was already 8 months into my part-time PhD and committed. So I cried for three days, kissed $30,000 goodbye and went the road of a poor student. My hard feelings towards to CRC have softened as their support has been wonderful.

The real benefit of being a student with the CRC was the conferences and the other students. OK access to researchers and end-users was also helpful. At the conferences we would talk and chat, share stories as to how well (or not) the PhDs were going. We’d watch each other present and help each other out. We learnt how fire science is such a broad topic and learnt about different approaches to research. We would hear the gossip about stakeholders and the power of the media. We had access to courses and support from staff within the CRC.

I’ve attended and presented at three international conferences all in different disciplines. Access to numerous disciplines has been essential due to my multidisciplinary approach to the topic I’m studying.  Obtaining access to managed land such as SA Water was easier being associated with the Bushfire CRC. Companies such as Maptek were happy to trial their laser scanners and funding bodies were supportive for new ideas. After the recent major fires Melbourne Water sought information and invited me to present online to an audience of over 60 people regarding managing water quality post wildfire. The CRC was a stepping stone to additional opportunities.  

The Bushfire CRC has worked hard at promoting our work via conference posters, fire notes and a dedicated web site to each student.  Numerous fire managers from different states in Australia approached me at conference regarding information in my posters. They wanted more info and more research to be done. A buzz for me this year was the Darwin conference. The crocodiles were a novelty but what really stood out was a chat I had with an end-user contact. It led to an invite to attend a workshop for the Burnt Area Assessment Team in Canberra. The buzz was seeing the usefulness of my studies and staff appreciating my involvement. We need more research done on erosion post-fire.

In contrast without the Bushfire CRC it would have been an isolating experience studying fire research. I’m sure my outcomes are greatly enhanced by the CRC involvement and support. I’m looking forward to the old nickname changing from an 18 year old with a degree to the Mum with a PhD or better still the fire manager with an understanding of both research and management.

I have five minutes to say all that above. I’ll remove the red writing about the short straw being a Mum studying a PhD. I’d love to say it but it’s not really the right forum. At least I’ve written it somewhere now.

1 comment:

PhD Journey: fire, kids, erosion said...

The talk went well. I slept on it overnight and in the morning simplified it nicely. Got numerous compliments so I guess it came across well.

In hindsight I really should speak up about the text in red. I looked around the room and saw under 20% were women and few of them were in management roles. Most management positions were men.

Why the gender imbalance? I'm one case study experiencing how hard it is to juggle kids and study. We are penalised for making time for the kids financially. In defense of the CRC they have supported me very well with conferences and training but really they could of given me a top-up. It really would of made it easier.

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