Science Narratives is a series of interviews with students from diverse fields in science at various stages of their career. By learning more about individuals and their journey in science, this series has the goal of breaking the stereotypes in science and showcasing the diversity in STEM. We hope readers will find connections and inspirations in these stories told.
Brianna LeBusque is a 1st year Conservation Psychology Ph.D. Student at the University University of South Australia. You can follow her #PathToPhD on her blog, Dr.OfWhat?
Describe your research or love for science in a haiku:
How to save the Earth
Study people’s behaviour
To change our future
What is the focus of your research? The focus of my research is Australia marine conservation (specifically shark conservation). Basically, I am trying to determine if different types of tourism experiences can promote conservation, and which ones do it best.
Outside of work, how do you like to spend your time?
I love photography, I bought my first ‘good’ camera last year and have so much fun taking pictures, particularly at the beach- I included one of my favourite photos that I have taken this year (the sunset)! I love spending time at the beach generally and learning how to surf (albeit very slowly). I also enjoy writing my own blog about my experience as a PhD student (www.drofwhat.com).
Who is a female scientist you look up to and why? Jane Goodall is a huge inspiration to me. She helped pave the way for animal research and her combination of compassion, passion, intelligence and strength is something I aspire too.
Tell us your personal story in science + research. How did your path begin and how did it lead to where you are today?
If you had asked me at the end of highschool, or even at the end of my third year of my psychology undergraduate degree what I wanted to do, a ‘Ph.D.’ would have never been my answer. To be truthful I didn’t even know what a Ph.D. really was until last year (in my honours year). I have thought about my journey and have realised there were actually some very specific moments that lead me to where I am now.
The first moment (and when it all started) was when I choose to study psychology in year 11 (actually it was my mums suggestion). At this time, I wanted to be a fashion stylist and was doing my certificate three in fashion styling, which meant I was missing my double lesson of psychology every week. I still managed to get a high grade and completely fell in love with the subject. In year 12 it was again my favourite subject and I was good at it (winning dux for my school). The combination of my success and passion for the subject made me choose psychology as my first university preference. At this point I thought the only job a psychology degree could lead to was a clinical psychologist (so that is what I set my sights on). My mind started to change when I went to university, I did not love my first year studying psychology, and I was not sure if being a psychologist was the right fit for me (I still didn’t comprehend all different types of career opportunities for psychology graduates). I started looking at other courses to transfer into (journalism, teaching etc.), but my mum suggested I stay studying psychology, at least for the first half of the second year (consensus was many people did not enjoy their first year at uni). I listened and started to rekindle my love of psychology and also started to learn about the many other career options I could pursue.
The second specific moment was in my second year when I went to a lecture taken by my now supervisor. She is an incredible scientist who studies conservation psychology (which I, like most people had never heard of). I remember vividly how fun her job sounded, so much so that I went home to my family saying that it would be my dream job. But I thought of it to be exactly that, a dream, something that wouldn’t actually happen. Since I can remember I have loved animals (when looking through childhood photos to include in this post so many of them had me with different types of animals) but I never considered a career related to animals, apart from the popular ‘I want to be a vet phase’. I genuinely do not know why I never considered it. However things started to shift, the older I got, the more I started to comprehend the environmental sustainability issues facing our planet.
The third specific moment was when I watched ‘The Lorax’. I worked in retail at the time and in my store children movies were shown on one of the computer screens. As a door greeter I would watch them when we weren’t busy. This meant I watched these movies in an extremely disjointed way and it took me a couple of months to see the entire movie (in a messed up order). Regardless, The Lorax ignited something in me. What if, like in the movie trees only existed in stories, or more realistically what if lions, elephants, pangolins or sharks only existed in stories and pictures?
Fast forward to perhaps the most important specific moment. At the start of my honours year we attended a meeting where all the potential research supervisors announced the type of research they were conducting that we could get involved in. Despite my love for animals and passion for conservation I was still in the mindset that I would eventually go onto to complete my masters and become a practicing psychologist (it seemed like the sensible option- in terms of work opportunities). But when I looked over all the research options I kept gravitating towards the conservation psychology topics. I vividly remember standing in my kitchen trying to decide which topic I should choose as my first option, when I realised something really obvious. The reason I was hesitant to choose a conservation psychology topic was because I thought that it was a cop out (I thought choosing a topic that I would find fun and enjoyable was a cop out). How stupid! I realised then that, that is the exact reason why I had to pursue conservation psychology. If I had the opportunity to do something I loved and was passionate about, I really, really needed to take that opportunity.
I loved my honours year (as much as one can love an honours year!) and I started to understand what a Ph.D. was, what research was, and what my career opportunities could be if I completed a Ph.D. My honours supervisor was really interested in marine conservation research and using tourism for ‘good’ (which are my biggest passions). Everything kind of fell into place, I like to think it was a combination of fate (in the form of those four specific moments) and hard work that got me to where I am now, and I couldn’t be happier.
Why do you think it’s important to talk about the life and struggles of a Ph.D. student? A Ph.D. is a unique experience that is probably unlike anything else you could do. I am not trying to make it sound prestigious and like an exclusive club, I am just saying that the people who will understand and can help you through your research-related struggles are people experiencing them with you. This is why connecting with and opening up to other Ph.D. students is so important.
On Work-Life-Research balance:
Work life balance is so important. I think anybody who is in a career where there is no clear ‘home time’ and your work follows you around (like baggage) needs to work out a way to develop a work-life balance. What I mean is as a Ph.D. student I am constantly thinking about my research (in bed, in the shower, when I am watching movies etc.) so I have to make a conscious effort to switch my brain off and enjoy my non-work life. I know that if I don’t do this I will burn out. It is particularly hard when you are studying something you are so passionate about (marine conservation for me) and it therefore consumes so much of my life. Sometimes I just have to watch that ridiculous reality TV show to turn my brain off!
What is one piece of advice you would give someone considering science research?
Get experience and try out research (whether this is as a research assistant, or an honours student, or a volunteering position), it is important to try it out. Research is not for everyone. A Ph.D. is great, I feel so privileged to get paid (scholarship) to research something that I love, but there are aspects that might make people uncomfortable. Such as the public speaking aspect, the rejection aspect (when publishing), the long hours and, the doing 419 different things at once aspect. My most important piece of advice however is to find a research topic you are passionate about. If you have passion, hard work is easier and trust me you will need a lot of both.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I still have not completely decided, I see myself either going down the academia field and researching, supervising and lecturing or I see myself working in the tourism industry improving the conservation potential of tourism experiences. Either way I will continue with research in conservation psychology and specifically marine conservation and tourism. Outside of work I see myself (hopefully) with a baby or two (skin-covered) and an extra baby or two (fur-covered).