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Six Shining Lights: Dr Sophie Lewis

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Canberra is a city brimming with high achievers—women who do incredible things on the local, national and international stage.

For our summer Magazine: Shine, we bring you stories of six local luminaries across a range of industries and find out what lights them up professionally and personally.

Dr Sophie Lewis

Dr Sophie Lewis is the 2019 ACT Scientist of the Year.

She uses climate models, observations and palaeoclimate records to provide a long-term perspective on recent climate change—and has a particular focus on how heatwave events in Australia are changing.

She is a member of the team producing the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, which will help serve as the internationally accepted framework for climate change action, used to establish global targets, such as the Paris Agreement.

Tell us about you…

I’m 37 and married. My wife and I got married in January 2018, just after the laws changed.

We had a young baby at the time so eloped to Queanbeyan Courthouse and got the ceremony done while our bub slept in the baby carrier.

Morgan is now two and her best friend is our very patient whippet Flipper.

What brought you to Canberra?

I grew up in Melbourne and came to Canberra for my PhD. I very quickly felt at home here.

It took a while for my wife and I to build a life (with PhDs and work) where we could settle here together but we are 100 per cent committed and love it.

What sparked your science bent?

I wanted to be a scientist since I was four years old. My parents took me out stargazing with hope of seeing Halley’s comet.

We weren’t lucky enough to see it that night but my interest in science was set.

What is the biggest reward of your work?

The biggest rewards of a scientific and academic career are working with young adults.

I found university to be such an exciting and formative time in my life and I can see this with the undergraduate and PhD students I work with.

What is the greatest challenge?

I’m driven by a passion for our natural environment and I find it very challenging to sustain my academic career at times when I feel like my work isn’t having a tangible positive impact.

At times it feels like we are going backwards on climate policy in Australia—this can feel very discouraging.

How do you separate work and life?

There is no separation! My wife and I are both committed to building our careers and being equally involved parents, so that means life and work gets blended up together into a highly-organised mess with a lot of grandparent help.

What keeps you awake at night?

I worry a lot about the climate future we are locking our children and grandchildren into. The decisions we make now are the ones they will have to live with.

We are already being impacted by extreme weather and climate events here in Australia and these are already pushing our abilities to cope. What will the future be like for our kids?

Photography: Tim Bean



This article originally appeared in Magazine: Shine for Summer 2019/20, available for free while stocks last. Find out more about Magazine here.

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