Dr Catherine Ball, CEO and Founder of Remote Research Ranges wears many hats. She is an expert juggler of multiple commitments, accomplished speaker, natural networker, connector, disruptor and innovator. Catherine was named the 2015 Queensland Telstra Businesswoman of the Year and 2015 National Corporate and Private Sector Telstra Businesswoman of the Year. In 2015, she was also awarded as an AFR Boss Magazine Young Executive of the Year.
Not one to rest on her laurels (or rest much at all it seems), in 2016, Catherine crowdfunded and curated Gumption Trigger, a captivating collection of stories by real women who have overcome life’s obstacles through sheer tenacity and determination. Also in 2016, she Co-Founded SheFlies, to encourage girls and women into STEM careers, and build confidence through learning to fly drones. Catherine is Co-Creator and Technical Convenor of the inaugural World of Drones Conference, to be held in Brisbane in September 2017, to support the growing drone economy across the Asia Pacific region.
Named a Westpac #100WomenOfInfluence in 2016, Catherine is a passionate advocate of gender equality, women in STEM, and of using technology to enhance communities and for humanitarian applications. The causes she supports are many and varied. She is above all a leader who is constantly giving back, by being approachable, by showing up, sharing her knowledge and infecting others with her voracious interest in the world and the people in it.
At 30 you were living in London town, you’d finished your PhD, lacked practical experience and you were living in the fallout from the global financial crisis, or the credit crunch as it was affectionately known in the UK. What happened next?
When you’re 30, living in London, over-qualified and under-experienced in the corporate world, life is superlative. 2010 for me was the best of times and also the worst of times. I had to make some hard decisions to keep my head above water in terms of finances and career growth. This included a jump to Australia. My skills and qualifications were equivalent to a passport for me. I was recently single and the world was my oyster, so I said to myself “now or never” and made the leap. I miss my friends and living in London still. I’ve compensated for this by starting a business which I plan to base out of Brisbane and London in the next 2 years.
Your drone research has explored remote islands, mapped vegetation and improved environmental conservation on engineering projects. Tell us about your most memorable project.
My first drone project will always be the strongest one in my memory because the learning curve was a ‘Möbius Strip’… never ending. I learned so much on that Project. There are some on the horizon that are looking equally challenging, but I am so much more confident about it all now. Some of the images we captured on that first survey would have made Sir David Attenborough very happy I am sure. We were capturing photos of Mother Nature in action. Oceanic Manta Rays not seen by local academics for years, bait balls of fish being hunted by dolphins underneath and birds from over the top. We also learned a lot about the kinds of people you need on your team to be able to complete something like this successfully.
If there was one problem happening in the world right now, that you would love to tackle with your drone research, what would it be?
I would really like to see drones being used extensively for the delivery of food aid, and also medicines. Humanitarian use of drones has been quite late to the party, and I see it being such a good fit. We just need to make sure the tech can meet the expectations. Red tape can be a huge problem with innovation generally, and no less so with regard to drones.
She Flies is a comprehensive, multidisciplinary program that builds confidence in girls and women to engage in the wonderful world of flying drones. How can people get involved in She Flies and what can they expect?
Dr Karen Joyce and I decided to start SheFlies as we looked for women in the industry and we think that fewer than 0.5% of people in the drone industry are female. This is such a shocking statistic for such an egalitarian technology. A quick Google Image search of the terms “drones and girls” and “drones and boys” was also a major reminder of some of the ingrained cultural aspects we had to focus on. People can book us to do a drone day at their school, or a drone camp for a week. We also do drone days for adults and we even deliver corporate team building drone sessions. We’re building online libraries so people can access things at a good price point. We have a number of free resources already available through SheFlies in the resources section.
In 2016 you launched, Gumption Trigger, a book that features real stories of resilience, grit and determination by award-winning business women. Give us a snapshot of some of your favourite memories from reading the book.
When I was editing Gumption Trigger on flights to and from Brisbane and Sydney I regularly started crying. Each story is unique. They each bring something different to the table. I guess my strongest emotion reading the book was one of pride for these women. What they have achieved against some serious odds is remarkable. As Cathie Reid said it best, “Be braver for a little bit longer” . I still say that to myself on a regular basis.
What’s your proudest moment?
Proudest moments for me are the quiet and private ones I have with women who feel they are able to open up to me about their challenges and ideas. When someone trusts your confidentiality and your judgement; that is bigger than any prize on a podium.
What has been your greatest challenge?
Greatest challenge for me is Tall Poppy Syndrome. I really have never experienced anything like it. I’m 6’1” and I will always be proud to share my thoughts and hopes and successes. Don’t ever let anyone put out your light. Tall Poppy for me is a compliment. We need to support the outliers, we need to work with the change-makers, and we need to help those who are looking for that kind of support.
If you had one piece of advice for a future leading female scientist, what would it be?
My advice is regularly the same thing: feel the fear but do it anyway. If you’re not petrified then you really don’t care enough about it. Fear is a great motivator for me, not a negative one, but rather one of: just get it done. Done IS good.
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