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Ocean-swimming scientist dives deep into wellbeing with prestigious fellowship

16 November 2022

Christchurch scientist, 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.


University of Canterbury Lecturer Dr Essie Rodgers has been awarded the 2022 L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science New Zealand fellowship.

This global fellowship programme recognises the achievements of exceptional early-career female scientists to highlight the critical importance of ensuring a greater participation of women in science from a young age.

Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5: Gender Equality Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5: Gender Equality

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.

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

“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,” says 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 began. Simultaneously, the world is experiencing a biodiversity crisis. Habitat loss, climate change, and an increasing human population are causing a dramatic decline in wildlife. Species are going extinct one thousand times faster than they should be2.

“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.

L’Oréal and UNESCO founded the For Women in Science programme in 1998 to promote the important role women play in science.

L’Oréal Australia and New Zealand’s CEO Rodrigo Pizarro says: “The role of science, research, and modelling in the world in which we live has never been quite so paramount. New Zealanders 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.”

“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.”

Dr Essie Rodgers
Dr Rodgers is a lecturer in animal physiology at the University of Canterbury’s School of Biological Sciences. Her research is at the forefront of the emerging field of conservation physiology, which explores the responses of organisms to anthropogenic threats and attempts to determine the ecophysiological constraints dictated by current conditions and future environmental change. Essie completed her PhD at the University of Queensland, where she studied the impacts of climate warming on the diving physiology of estuarine crocodiles. Following this, Essie held postdoctoral fellowships at the University of California Davis (USA), the University of Antwerp (Belgium) and the Australian National University where she conducted cutting-edge research on the ecophysiology of freshwater and marine fishes, and Australian lizards.

For Women in Science
Today only 33% of researchers are women, with less than 25% making up the most senior leadership positions, and only 4% of Scientific Nobel Prizes have been awarded to women. For the past 24 years, the L’Oréal Corporate Foundation and UNESCO have been committed to increasing the number of women working in scientific research.

In 1998 L’Oréal and UNESCO founded the For Women in Science programme to promote and highlight the critical importance of ensuring greater participation of women in science. The For Women in Science program recognises the achievements of exceptional female scientists at the early stages of their careers and awards them with a Fellowship to help further their research.

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