Ocean-swimming Scientist Dr Essie Rodgers Awarded L’Oréal-UNESCO Women in Science

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8 November 2022

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Women scientists are leading ground-breaking research across the world. Christchurch-based scientist, and University of Canterbury Lecturer, Dr Essie Rodgers has been awarded the 2022 L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science New Zealand fellowship to further her research into conservation and how the quality of waterways impacts human mental health and wellbeing. For over the past 24 years, the L’Oréal Corporate Foundation and UNESCO have been committed to increasing the number of women working in scientific research.

Dr Essie Rodgers

Today, only 33 per cent of researchers are women, with less than 25 per cent making up the most senior leadership positions. L’Oréal and UNESCO founded the For Women in Science programme in 1998 to promote the important role that women play in science. 

Dr Rodgers receives $25,000 to support her ground-breaking studies understanding the link between the quality of our environment and the quality of human health and wellbeing. Her research into waterways (blue spaces) could ultimately impact urban city design and everyday lifestyle choices.

“The battle for funding is ongoing, especially for female scientists. I am so grateful to be the New Zealand recipient of the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science fellowship this year. I’m excited to be a role model for other women in science, especially my students,”

Dr Rodgers

The L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science fellowship allows the recipient to use the funds for research related expenses, which uniquely also includes childcare costs, enabling the recipient to advance their work without practical barriers. Dr Rodgers will use her fellowship to progress her important research by supporting expeditions to field sites, processing water samples and analysing environmental DNA.

“The fellowship allows me to hit the ground running, investing into complex water and DNA analysis, essential to the project. The unique structure of the fellowship means I will be able to fund presentations of our findings at international conferences to advance collaboration with other leaders in the field around the world,” she says.

In a post-pandemic world, people are recovering from a collective trauma, mental and physical health are at an all-time low. Recent New Zealand research shows that 85% of Kiwis are concerned about their mental health, and 78% are concerned about their physical health since the pandemic began1. Simultaneously, the world is experiencing a biodiversity crisis. Habitat loss, climate change, and an increasing human population are causing a dramatic decline in wildlife.

“My research stems from understanding that healthy humans need healthy environments. Nature and human health are intimately linked. If natural spaces with high ecological quality result in greater health benefits, we will be provided with a rare win-win conservation opportunity,” says Dr Rodgers.

Dr Rodgers has experienced the health benefits from nature first-hand, through her love of ocean swimming and snorkelling. Her strong connection to blue spaces extends to her interest in aquatic animals, having recently completed a research study into the climate impacts on saltwater crocodiles. The new research extends her knowledge in animal physiology to the health of humans, and wider conservation opportunities.

“The role of science, research, and modelling in the world in which we live has never been quite so paramount. New Zealander’s look to scientists with extremely high levels of trust and the knowledge that what they uncover helps us to address some of society’s most pressing issues. Women play a central role in these discoveries.”

L’Oréal Australia and New Zealand’s CEO Rodrigo Pizarro

“We are so proud to be able to award the 2022 L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science fellowship to Dr Rodgers. At L’Oréal, we believe we have the responsibility to support the incredible work of women in science and we are excited to contribute to the work of Dr Rodgers. Her research into conservation could change the way modern cities are built, change daily lifestyle habits, and provide even more reasons to care for our planet.”

Together with the four Australian-based fellows, Dr Rodgers will attend an in-person awards ceremony in Melbourne on November 17th, 2022.

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