Author Profile: Emily Webster

Hi everyone! I recently started writing for the wavelength blog. Many of you will be thinking ‘what is this wavelength blog?’ well let me tell you. The wavelength blog is the UNSW Science Student Centre’s blog on all things science, written for students by students. If you are a wavelength regular and read my last post on the Troubled Waters exhibition at UNSW Galleries, you may also be wondering who I am.

My name is Emily. I’m an honours student in the UNSW school of BEES. For my honours project I’m interested in learning about diet and foraging behaviour of colonial waterbirds during the 2016 breeding event in the Barmah-Millewa Forest, a RAMSAR listed wetland in South-East Australia. For the fieldwork component of my project, I will be living in a small cabin on the Murray River for almost three months, counting nestlings, catching bugs and tracking adult birds. But more on that will come in later posts.

A little about myself: I grew up in Canberra, and moved to Sydney in year 7. I went to Carlingford High School, and at UNSW have been doing a B Advanced Science with a biological science major. My favourite things about this program so far have been the fieldwork. Most BIOS second and third year courses incorporate some degree of fieldwork, from day trips to Centennial Park, to two weeks camping on an island in the Great Barrier Reef (Avoid Island, BIOS3123), monitoring sea turtles as they come up onto shore to lay their eggs. These field trips have often been so unexpected and varied, and I feel like I’ve gained real-life skills, and plenty of life-long friends.

Beach profiling on Avoid Island- BIOS3123 Conservation in Practice. I’m carrying the yellow thing (second from the right)

BIOS3123 was what you imagine when you think of David Attenborough documentaries. The course is run in collaboration with WildMob, a non-profit organisation that studies flatback turtle numbers in order to determine their status and investigate their movements. The course is run on Avoid Island, which is owned by the QLD trust. Access is restricted to scientists, so we were the only ones on the island. We slept on the sandy beaches, patrolling for marine turtles. When we saw one we would have to get down on our bellies and sneak up silently behind it, mission impossible-style, so they wouldn’t get startled and leave. On the last night of the trip I was hiding from one nesting turtle, when another came out of the ocean, came right up behind me and started to make a nest within a metre of my body. It was the most surreal and amazing experience, and after nearly two weeks of watching nest-making from 50m away, it was incredibly rewarding to see the process up close.

The Avoid Island crew, very happy and clean after our first showers for the trip. Thats me bottom right
A nesting flatback turtle! These guys don’t start laying until they reach about 30 years old. Some of them are much older, so it’s very humbling to be able to work on them

I love animals (and plants), and am very interested in conservation, especially innovative technologies that support sustainability. But I’m not just a biology person. I actually didn’t even study biology in year 11 and 12. My HSC subjects were torn between two very different facets of myself. I took physics, chemistry and mathematics, and then four unit English and visual art. I was also taking piano lessons and learning Spanish on the side. I didn’t even decide to do a biological sciences major until I saw Professor Mike Archer lecture in first year. Those of you who were lucky enough to attend his lectures will understand. Those who haven’t should really try to see one!

I love studying languages, and just returned from a semester of student exchange in Marseille, France. I find there’s nothing quite like travelling in another country where you speak a bit of the language. It opens up a lot of doors and lets you connect with people on a totally new level. Exchange was a fantastic experience and really allowed me to combine my love of languages and of science. The university was located right beside a national park, making for some fantastic field trips. I could see the Mediterranean sea from my bedroom window.

My class when on Student Exchange at Aix-Marseille University in France, 2016. I am second from the left

The best thing about exchange for me, other than all the language learning, travelling and meeting fantastic new people, was seeing how my thoughts and perspectives changed while I was there. When I arrived in Marseille I didn’t know anyone, and I knew that there was a lot of gang violence in the city, so I was afraid to go out after sunset, which was 4pm in the winter. With the coming of summer I began to discover the most beautiful places. In Marseille there’s quite an amazing contemporary dance and music scene, and a lot of venues with entry by donation. There’s also a long industrial history, which makes studying conservation very interesting. There is a lot of work to be done in the area remediating contaminated sites and restoring habitats. By the end of my stay, I really didn’t want to leave!

The beautiful coastline of Marseille

I have been learning the piano since year 3, and though I’m no pro, I have found that piano has been a major tool for getting me through university. Procrasta-piano is one of my favourite things to do when deadlines are approaching. All through high school procrasta-piano got me out of all kinds of chores, because according to my parents, I was doing something productive. I used to dream of being a stage performer, but when it came to it I wasn’t dedicated enough to practicing, wasn’t very talented in the first place, and I enjoyed music too much as a hobby to take it seriously. Now I content myself with listening, and try to go to concerts, festivals and theatre productions whenever I’m free (and can afford it).

Me on stage dancing as a duck (I was 5)

Now, on to my involvement in Wavelength. Starting my honours year I wanted to find a sort of creative outlet. I needed a break from scientific articles, and one of our honours coordinators recommended that we do lots and lots of writing. I don’t know if he meant this, or working on our theses, but there you go. I’m hoping to publish one or two blog posts a week. What I really hope to achieve is to somehow combine my interests in art, music, languages, literature, news and science here. I want to let other students know about cool science-related events that are happening in Sydney, learn about research projects in the university and otherwise, talk about other people’s experiences and read about things that I find interesting. I hope that some of these things will interest you too, and I’m always open to comments and suggestions if you would like to hear about something in particular.

Until the next post, and thank you very much for reading!



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