Dr Cass Hunter is a scientist and an Indigenous social ecological researcher who works for CSIRO in northern Australia.
Since the age of 10, Cass wanted to be a park ranger. She had posters of national parks on her bedroom walls.
Cass went to high school in Cairns where she studied Maths B, Chemistry, Physics, Biology, Accounting and English
I like maths because it seems more logical, I’ve either got the answer right or wrong. Whereas, with English you can construct a sentence in so many ways. I always seemed to be writing sentences the wrong way which got a bit frustrating.
Biology was based more on theory than hands on activities so it didn’t really excite her when she was a high school student.
I didn’t relate to science because I couldn’t see myself being a scientist.
While she was still at school she got her first job working at a supermarket on the cash register.
During one of Cass’s classes, brochures were handed out for a CSIRO indigenous cadetship opportunity, which her teachers encouraged her to apply for.
My dad inspired me to like maths at a young age. He would provide me with extra maths homework to do at night. I remember I didn’t like doing the extra maths homework but I become grateful of his teachings at an older age. I now provide my seven year old son with extra maths homework and explain “practice makes perfect”.
University and first job
When she left school, Cass was successful in receiving the indigenous cadetship from CSIRO. She completed a degree in Environmental Science, then went onto an Honours degree in Science and finally a PhD in Quantitative Marine Science.
I do not regret that I didn’t become a park ranger because of the skills I’ve developed and I’m still able to network with Indigenous Rangers.
When she started her career at CSIRO she learned to use very technical mathematical modelling and computer programming skills.
Cass’s advice to students
Cass says, if you are interested in a particular STEM field, then look for opportunities to undertake some volunteering in that STEM field or talk to STEM professionals to ask them your key questions. Build a list of the examples where you think STEM has helped our society and ask yourself, is this something that interests you? If so, seek it out.
I have a simple saying when I face obstacles in my life…try your best. There is not much more I feel you can ask if you are trying your best.
Cass says that the key personal attributes and skills that have contributed to her success are:
- the ability to be adaptable by bouncing back when you have a set back and taking on a new challenge even though it’s likely to involve hard work.
- being honest
When I was younger I didn’t understand the importance of networking. I used to think ‘why do I need to talk to someone at a conference that I’ve never met before.’ Now, I understand that better connections allow you to bridge into new skills and areas.
My achievements come through being prepared to step outside my comfort zone.
I’ve developed the skills to take on new challenges and this creates my work achievements.
I’m passionate about STEM because of the constant learning and this has ignited me to learn more and more. The STEM field has ignited my voice and made me think more deeply about my contribution. Young people in STEM and positions of leadership provide our next generation of thinkers and innovators. They help to set the agenda for how our society advances forward and by young people overcoming any potential fears of putting new ideas forward we can empower our nation to build the advancing steps.
Cass’s current job
After some years at CSIRO, Cass shifted her focus to learn more skills in social science, including building partnerships with communities and stakeholders. She also focussed on her science communication skills. Her role involves building respectful and productive partnerships with communities, stakeholders and agencies, to help them manage their local environment and the effects of climate change.
My research aims to translate science into useful outcomes for communities by helping to design data and digital platforms that can be used by local decision makers. The most rewarding part of my job is helping to increase Indigenous-led research that is relevant to communities, has benefits, and builds capacity in new areas.
Cass was recently awarded an Advance Queensland Indigenous Fellowship from the Queensland Government.
STEM at work
I feel the biggest opportunities are with the digital technology advances.
The main digital technology I’ve used in my job is working with digital data platforms that are built for accessing on-line research information. I’m also working with a team to understand how digital technology can be used to help support land and sea management in Indigenous communities.