Despite having developed a love of science and exploration as a child, Melinda did not immediately follow the traditional path to becoming a scientist.
She grew up on a semi-rural five acre property in western Sydney and loved being out in the natural world. She remembers watching The Curiosity Show and following their instructions to conduct mini-experiments at home. However, a passion for travel took precedence over science during her teenage years.
“I got distracted by wanting to travel and ended up leaving school after Year 10,” she says. “I went to secretarial college to learn administrative skills and began working as a legal secretary, but I never felt like I belonged. I was not ‘corporate law firm’ material and I never really liked it, at all, but it was good money and allowed me to travel around the world. It got me doing what I really wanted to do at that time.”
In her late 20s, Melinda started thinking about what she wanted to do in life. This prompted her to join WWF and the Australian Conservation Foundation. She took part in volunteering projects, including weeding in national parks.
“Then I joined Earth Watch and spent a weekend catching frogs in the Watagan Mountains, near Newcastle, north of Sydney,” she says. “So off I go with this group of volunteers, a professor and his PhD students, and we ran around the forest at night catching frogs, measuring them, weighing them, microchipping them — I had a ball. I loved it and had so much fun.”
That night, Melinda talked to a PhD student about the future and what she really wanted to do. The conversation sparked a thought process that ended with Melinda enrolling in TAFE six months later. She then completed a Bachelor of Science at JCU, which led to completing honours and being approached to do a PhD.
“I never thought I’d get this far,” she says. “I grew up in an area where very few kids went to university, only one friend went. It wasn’t really part of the conversation.”