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Dr Vanessa

Science Communicator, Wildlife Presenter and Marine scientist

Visibility is important to help inspire the next generations.

Dr Vanessa Pirotta is a wildlife scientist, woman in STEMM/STEAM, science communicator, author and vessel operator.

Vanessa’s research uses innovative technologies for wildlife conservation. Vanessa works collaboratively across marine and terrestrial environments, merging cutting-edge tech to access animals in unique ways. Most notable works include drones to collect whale snot and the use of computer algorithms and AI for the detection of illegal wildlife trafficking.

Vanessa is a passionate and experienced science communicator who plays an important role in society by making science accessible. She’s represented Australia internationally as the international runner-up of the world-renowned science communication competition FameLab, spoken on the TEDx platform, been recognized by the Australian Financial Review as one of the top 100 Women of Influence and listed as one of Science & Technology Australia’s Superstars of STEM.

Vanessa is the lead scientist of the scientific and citizen science program Wild Sydney Harbour, which is learning more about marine life in Sydney Harbour, Australia. As part of this, Vanessa is leading scientific research with local First Nations rangers, the Gamay Rangers. Together, they are combining First Nation Knowledge and scientific research to learn more about marine mammals such as whales, dolphins and fur seals.

Vanessa is also a proud children’s book author, with her book The Voyage of Whale and Calf, serving as an annual reminder of humpback whale biology and ecology in Australian waters.

Vanessa is a highly experienced presenter and was the invited MC for the prestigious Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science at Parliament House, Canberra in 2023.

Talking Points

Overcoming Challenges

As a marine scientist researching whales, I have faced a number of challenges, some of which have included logistics, safety, working with wild animals and worked in challenging environments. Overcoming many of these challenges has meant learning new skills (e.g. commercial boating qualifications) and being adaptable. In times where my skills have been limited, I have turned to collaboration. In this topic, I share my story about the challenges of conducting research into whale health. My collaboration with industry to develop custom built drone technology for collecting whale lung bacteria from whale blow (the visible spray from a whale also known as whale snot) highlights the benefits of colourful collaboration to transform the way we research whale health. Takeaways include messages of encouragement, optimism and the benefits of teamwork. Delegates will be taken on a journey outside of their everyday to be inspired to work with others to create something great.

The Importance of Good Communication

Keeping your message simple, applicable and accessible is key for good communication. My experience as an animal trainer, scientist and educator has provided me with fundamental basics for effective communication, which are applicable to everyday. My role as a science communicator requires me to break down hard concepts into small, relatable pieces of information using my transferable skillset to work across a variety of disciplines. I am able to apply basic communication principles to different themes, providing attendees with thought provoking takeaways.

Career Change

Chasing that perfect career takes time and often requires a certain level of experience and qualifications. However, what happens when you achieve that dream and you are left wanting more? Previous roles in the zoological and marine industries have led me to pursue a pure conservation based avenue via academia. Following this path has allowed me to become a champion of diversity, an advocate for women in science and allowed me to discover my passion and the importance of communicating science.
Key messages include going beyond the norm, asking questions and igniting a desire for learning more. Delegates will be inspired to follow their passion to allow their career path to grow in different directions.

A Day in the Life of a Scientist

It took many years to complete my studies to finally become Dr V. Find out what it’s like to be a wildlife scientist. From being out on a boat with whales to making discoveries in the lab and to disseminating information widely, find out what it takes to be modern world scientist.

A key component of being a scientist is having the ability to learn and give things ago and for Vanessa, it’s all about bringing awareness to the diversity of female scientists doing amazing things.

Who is this for:
A younger demographic, primary to high school ages. It is also great for people looking for transformation and wanting to overcome challenges.

Key takeaways:
- Tools for making your passion reality.
- Goal setting.
- Acknowledgment of transferable skillsets.

Ocean ABC

Vanessa has developed an early learning educational course for foundation years to late primary school ages. Vanessa’s marine science background enables her to provide educational and fun content using the alphabet to explore a wide range of unusual marine creatures.

Who is this for:
This is a perfect platform for teachers and parents/guardians learning from home.

Key takeaways:
- Learn how to identify different marine organisms based on their biology.
- Explore animal adaptions and life cycles.
- Explore marine food webs and the ecological roles species play.

Becoming an Effective Communicator

Communication is important in everyday life, whether it be at home or in the office. Vanessa has a number of years as a presenter, science communicator and animal trainer (having trained sea lions, dolphins and primates). This unique experience has enabled Vanessa to explore concepts between human and animal communication.

Who is this for:
Founders, entrepreneurs, small business owners, teams going through disruption or transformation, people looking for happiness and balance.

Key takeaways
- Think before acting. Why it is why we do what we do.
- Understanding the behaviour of others.
- Ideas around positive reinforcement.
Vanessa’s an amazing and innovative scientist, who has the rare ability to communicate her research to audiences of any level. She’s certainly someone to watch as her career keeps accelerating! Dr William Robbins

Dr Vanessa Pirotta reminds us the impact of having someone outside of education to inspire our students. An outside voice can reinforce what we’re saying with real world wisdom.

Future Schools Conference

Vanessa's talk focused not only on the ability technology can have to make a difference in how we research but was also a strong reminder of the interconnectivity of the planet and how we respect, plan for and consider or global interactions.

Federation University Australia
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