Calm seas on the Antarctic coast

Training under the midnight sun

23 January 2017

Agriculture and Environment's Professor Margaret Barbour joined 75 other women scientists in a year-long program intending to increase the influence and impact of women with a background in science.

A Gentoo penguin posing at Barrentos Island.


In December 2016, under a midnight sun and accompanied by the crack and groan of calving icebergs the University of Sydney’s Margaret Barbour celebrated her promotion to Professor of Plant Physiology aboard a ship in Antarctica. Joined by 75 other women scientists, the voyage was the culmination of a 12-month leadership training program called Homeward Bound, which aims to increase ‘the influence and impact of women with a science background in order to influence policy and decision making as it shapes our planet’.

The training included a range of diagnostics that provided insight into emotional intelligence, preferred learning styles and behaviours, a section on building visibility and communication skills, and training in strategic planning.

“Many of humanity’s biggest problems – climate change, food, water and energy security – require a strong science background to understand and begin to formulate solutions. Women remain under-represented in science leadership. So not only is the personal and public investment in science education of females not realised, but society is missing out on potential leaders in research, teaching and environmental solutions.”

Margaret is only the second female professor ever in the nearly 100-year history of Agriculture at the University of Sydney (the first was Professor Robyn McConchie, promoted in 2015). As Margaret told her fellow Homeward Bounders on board, “I hope that my promotion will show that it is possible for ordinary women with families to make it to professor.”

"I also learned how important emotional intelligence is to effective leadership"
Professor Margaret Barbour

The 76 women on the trip ranged from PhD students and early-career researchers to faculty deans and former members of UN panels, to company directors. A wide range of disciplines were represented, including biologists, astronomers, meteorologists, mathematicians, medical doctors, social scientists, engineers, geologists, neurologists, soil scientists and hydrologists.

“I found the strategic planning section most useful, as it allowed us to explore widely-used strategic planning ideas to create a personal visionary goal from our core values, then put in place a balanced score card to achieve outcomes at work and in our personal life that build towards the visionary goal” Margaret said.

“I also learned how important emotional intelligence is to effective leadership” Margaret said. “Being able to read and interpret other people's emotions is crucial for getting the best outcomes for the group. And recognising your own emotions is even more important. That way you can choose to change the stories you tell yourself to shift your emotions into a more constructive space.”

The remote Antarctic location was key to allowing the Homeward Bounders the mental space to consider the big questions posed by the program.

“Reconnecting with the natural environment and disconnecting from the pressures and distractions of modern life allowed us to really think about who we are and what we want to be known for” Margaret said.

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