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Written By

Hannah Gray


College of Science and Engineering

Publish Date

20 May 2021

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Chasing a lifelong dream

For JCU Advanced Science student, Samantha Crisp, learning about and helping our oceans is a dream years in the making. With the support of the George Alexander Foundation (GAF) scholarship, that dream is now her reality.

Growing up in the coastal town of Esperance, Western Australia, Samantha had a passion for the ocean. “I’ve always wanted to do marine biology, ever since I was four. I feel like my whole life revolves around the ocean,” she says. “Even all of my hobbies take me back to the ocean!”

While travelling with her family to Indonesia and other tropical places, Samantha began to realise the differences between her Australian coastal experience and the experiences of developing tropical communities.

“We went to places that had been affected by dynamite fishing and stuff like that, so I started getting interested in conservation and helping developing countries,” she says.

Samantha has pursued that interest by discovering how she can make a difference.

“One of the reasons I did the advanced science course is that it’s more aimed towards research,” she says. “I think having that scientific background gives you a lot of power in the field of conservation, especially in terms of policies.

“I think it’s good to have an understanding of the system that you’re trying to protect from a scientific viewpoint. That way you can engage the community and actually go and enact these policies.”

Committed to conservation

As Samantha finishes her third year of study, she’s keeping an open mind while considering her goal of conservation.

“I want to do multi-disciplinary community engagement-based work because I think research has a tendency to just end,” she says. “I want to follow up on research to actually preserve things – to use that research to make a difference to the communities that need it.”

The communities that she is most drawn to are the ones that she experienced firsthand.

“There is heaps of work to do in developing countries, especially around conservation. Quite often you have Western people go into these communities with preconceived ideas about what conservation is based on how it works in places like Australia. But those methods don’t always suit the geography, culture or resources of the place.

“I want to work with the people in that location to find the compromise between them relying on the ocean for food and income, and the ocean needing them to care for it.”

As a recipient of the George Alexander Foundation scholarship, Samantha has the chance to chart a course for conservation.

Setting sail with a scholarship

Moving from Esperance, Western Australia, to Townsville, Queensland, is a big step with a big cost, so when Samantha applied for the GAF scholarship, she was hoping it would fund her dream. After receiving the scholarship and moving across the country, she discovered that the financial assistance wasn’t the most valuable thing that the scholarship offered.

“What is so appealing about the GAF scholarship is that it’s community based,” Samantha says.

“You get to have these meetups with people who are in really similar situations to you and you feel genuinely supported by this community. Whether it be the scholarship people or the board members or even just the other scholars, it’s a really cool environment to be in and a community to be a part of.”

Navigating a sea of opportunities

The GAF scholarship has also provided other opportunities for Samantha.

Samantha was able to volunteer each July for three years in a row with Cetacean Research Western Australia (CETREC WA) and dove into the world of whales. “We did orca research and it was really, really cool,” she says.

But the cetacean research didn’t stop in WA. “I then got a scholarship to go to Denmark on exchange so I was there for eight months, which was really epic! It was so amazing. I volunteered there with cetacean research, as well as collecting porpoise tags.”

Samantha was focused to chase each opportunity. “I would just put my hand up and say, ‘Are there any volunteering opportunities coming up? Okay, I’ll do that.’ It was networking with my lecturers and then maintaining connections with the people I volunteered with.”

Samantha doing whale research in WA
Samantha in Denmark
Left: Samantha working with CETREC WA. Right: Samantha in Denmark.

Samantha's top tips for scholarships

Be prepared

If you’re aiming for a scholarship, Samantha says preparation is key.

“Read the scholarship multiple times. Make sure you know what they’re actually assessing. If you can target what they’re targeting, your chances increase a lot.

“I think people who are prepared and have the answers to the questions that the scholarship board is asking get the closest to receiving it,” Samantha says.

Do the groundwork

Take your preparation a step further by getting the experience to match your ambitions.

“I think it helps to volunteer. It looks really good on your résumé and you build connections that you can use as references for the scholarship, as well as later on in your study or your career,” Samantha says.

“And keep doing it while you study. Being out in the field is so beneficial. It re-enthuses you to study and gives you that extra motivation because it makes you feel like, yes, what I’m studying toward is something that I actually want to be doing with my life.

Get connected

Samantha has experienced how valuable a network can be.

“So many opportunities come from just approaching someone and making a connection with them. Heaps of the volunteer stuff that I’ve done has come from other people that I met through volunteering,” Samantha says.

“Like I said before, you can have all of this really valuable research, but if you can’t connect with someone or know how to get your research out there, it has no impact. Sharpening your communication skills is the most important thing you can do for your career, no matter what field you’re in.”

Embrace the challenge

University study isn’t always a walk in the park. Samantha says that letting your passion be the wind in your sails can keep you moving towards your goals.

“Don’t get overwhelmed too much. Take it as a challenge. Remind yourself why you’re studying. You have to know your motivation,” Samantha says. “When you know why you’re studying and you have a reason for it or a passion for it, you’ll want to keep going even when it’s hard.”

For Samantha, her study journey can be summarised in one word: exciting.

“Marine science is something I’ve been so passionate about ever since being a kid. To get to go to university, do the work that I’ve done and see all of the opportunities ahead of me, it’s really exciting. I’m just excited to see what’s in the future.”

Interested in the opportunities a scholarship can give you? Check out JCU Scholarships.

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