Going places with science

7 Sep 2023

Audrey poses for a photoGrowing up on a farm, Audrey McInnerney was inspired by a father who instilled in her a love of science. With his encouragement, this Wiradjuri woman aimed high and as a teenager began her studies in what is today The University of Queensland’s School of Agriculture and Food Sustainability. It wasn’t long before she found herself focused on soybean genetics in the Integrative Legume Research Group led by Associate Professor Brett Ferguson.  

Science and technology dominated Audrey’s days at UQ, which included participation in the Wonder of Science program. She got support, when she needed it, from both the Goorie Berrimpa Collective and the UQ’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies Unit (ATSISU). In 2018, upon finishing her Honours year, she was accepted into the Aurora Study Tour, an international program run by the Aurora Education Foundation that allowed her to visit such prestigious universities as Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, NYU, Columbia, and more.  

“I didn’t know that this was something that even existed and that I could live there and meet with other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people,” Audrey said. 

Learning she’d won the esteemed Charlie Perkins Scholarship through the Aurora Education Foundation is a moment Audrey will never forget. She knew the tremendous opportunity it represented yet couldn’t help but feel nervous about the year ahead. When she got to Cambridge to undertake an MPhil in Biological Science (Plant Sciences), imposter syndrome was hard to shake. Coming out of lockdown helped, and she soon found herself fully enjoying the beautiful city and the opportunity to learn at a world-renowned institution.   

Audrey attributes her success at Cambridge to her studies at The University of Queensland, where she learned lab techniques and developed academic prowess. She remembers proudly an NYU professor who was keen to take her on as a PhD candidate. Not bad for a kid from the farm! In fact, she still uses the analytical skills she gained in her undergraduate years to decipher complex information and processes and there is no doubt her student journey at UQ and Cambridge paved the way to where she is today. 

“As an Aboriginal person studying science, I realised how it lacked ties to culture at its heart,” she said.  

Time for a little career fusion. These days, Audrey takes all those skills she developed as a student and applies them as a policy officer working with the Federal Government in Canberra on First Nation’s cultural heritage protection. She engages with diverse community stakeholders around complex government processes, sharing cultural heritage legislation in a way “that mob can understand, and good and robust decisions can be made.” Helping Aboriginal voices be heard is her way of giving back to the community who supported her when she was an aspiring student.   

Audrey’s advice to young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students embarking on university studies is to reach out and take full advantage of available support, like the staff at UQ’s ATSISU unit. The Aurora Education Foundation also has an Indigenous Pathway Portal.  

“Aurora has been incredibly supportive of me, helping review my application and preparing me in advance for interviews,” she said.  

“Engaging with Aurora Education Foundation alumni has also been incredibly valuable – because, sometimes, the very best advice comes from someone who’s walked a mile in your shoes.”