Rachel Morgain - Connecting people, knowledge and nature

Rachel Morgain - Connecting people, knowledge and nature

Monday, 08 March 2021

I describe myself as an environmental social scientist and knowledge broker, but my story is more complex. I’ve had the kind of varied career that allows me to bridge different ways of thinking about and using knowledge. I have a background in government and private industry, many years in the research sector, and a lot of experience working with community organisations. This helps me understand the needs and processes of different sectors, and gives me insights into diverse community perspectives on environmental challenges.

I’ve always loved nature, but before looking around me at plants, animals and special places, I looked upwards – to the stars. I started out studying physics and astronomy at The University of Melbourne, while working for a geological company in stakeholder relationships, data management and programming. My honours research took on Einstein’s general relativity, testing the effects of extremely massive objects on the light from pulsars. My fieldwork back then was not in forests and woodlands, but at telescopes – the big radio dish at Parkes, and a summer up in the Warrumbungles at the Anglo-Australian Observatory. Afterwards, I went bush further afield, working for a year in mining in Western Australia and the Northern Territory.

But my desire to make a difference brought me to Canberra. My technical skills were sought by the Department of Defence, but my interest in policy, and politics, shaped my career. I worked in defence reporting and analysis, then moved across to social policy. Here I focused on community cohesion and support for vulnerable families. I worked with Indigenous service providers and community organisations, built relationships across government and supported Ministers with research synthesis and policy advice. I became a senior policy officer and research manager, partnering with research institutions and community organisations and drawing on social science to better inform policy decisions.

Making connections

My own interdisciplinary research linked questions of community-building and environment. My PhD in anthropology took me to the forests, mountains and woodlands of the west coast of the United States, where I worked with environmental and social justice–focused groups to understand how they draw on ecological understandings to build relationships with each other and with the natural world. I did postdoctoral work in Pacific studies on similar themes, looking at diverse cultural communities in Fiji to learn how they forge connections with each other and with land and sea. I drew on Indigenous studies and science communication, which offer different perspectives on knowledge and how it shapes our world.

After working briefly in science policy at the Australian Academy of Science, I became knowledge broker for the Threatened Species Recovery Hub. It’s probably clear that I’m not happy in just one place. With knowledge brokering, I can move, create and integrate across diverse sources of knowledge, multiple perspectives, and diverse sectors of policy, business and community. I can build on my experience creating partnerships and connecting research with decision-making and practice, while helping improve how systems, institutions and people care for and connect with the natural world.

Further information
Rachel Morgain

Top image: Rachel at the Australian National University by a Wollemi pine. Image: Tabitha Boyer

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