Deep within the greenery just south of Hobart, Tasmania, somewhere tucked in between the cherry trees and vines brimming with fresh raspberries, you can find Sharee McCammon - part-time gardener, full time molecular analyst and lifelong feminist.
Truthfully, to call Sharee a part-time gardener is insulting to the seemingly endless work she has dedicated to transforming her front yard into something that closely resembles a fairytale. For over 20 years, McCammon has worked to decrease her ecological footprint in part by growing and producing her own food. “I didn’t want to be part of the industrial food production system that runs most of the world. I have huge moral problems with that and I just find it incredibly satisfying to have a meal we’ve totally grown ourselves. Every piece of food on the table is something I’ve grown and the soap we use is made from our milk,” McCammon said.
McCammon’s passion for gardening has stemmed from her love of science. After finishing the Australian equivalent of high school, McCammon studied plant science and molecular biology at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. She worked as a lab technician to support herself through college and graduated with top marks. After finishing her undergraduate degree, McCammon and her partner, Graeme McCormack, spent 12 months traveling the world before returning to Australia to embark on their scientific careers. McCormack, like McCammon, works as what she refers to as a “lab techie” at The University of Tasmania.
“I thought back then science was prestigious and interesting and I’d have a job for life and I’d be a research scientist. The world of science wasn’t quite what I expected,” McCammon recalls. Upon finishing her master’s degree, McCammon was faced with the decision of having children or pursuing a PhD to become a research scientist, a career she had long aspired towards. “Science research at the high levels is really tough for women. Really tough. It’s a classic boys club. The funding bodies don’t recognize anything other than blood, sweat and tears and there’s no room for kids in that,” McCammon said.
While working at The University of Tasmania, McCammon’s decision to have children rather than further her academic career was reaffirmed as she began to realize the lifestyle of a research scientist was not as stimulating as she once thought it to be. “They [research scientists] seemed to lose touch with science and be stuck behind desks writing applications for grant money and chasing funding. I thought that looked a bit rubbish so I made the active decision not to do a PhD and I think it was right for me,” McCammon said.
McCammon and McCormack now have two sons, Jasper, 21, and Fletcher, 18, who share the couple’s love for adventure and all things outdoors. Now 50 years old, McCammon says she’s never looked back. Her love for science and desire to promote environmental sustainability remain strong, though she fears the field of science will continue to face challenges as governments around the world continually fail to take action in attempting to combat global warming. “Most of my friends are scientists and there’s nobody that has any doubt climate change is real. It’s not about belief. It’s simply facts,” McCammon said. The best way we can help combat the issue is to stop using so much stuff, she said. “The whole capitalist system is based on more and more people using more and more stuff. People need to start questioning that. It’s not making us happy and it’s using all the resources on the planet, which in the end will bite us in the butt,” McCammon said.
As for women who want to break into the world of science? McCammon advises only to pursue a career in science if you’re truly passionate about it. “You’re signing up for a ridiculously high workload. Whether that means taking time away from kids or other things, it’s hard to maintain a balanced life because you’re competing with people who live it [science] 24/7,” McCammon said.