Young scientist volunteers for ‘adventure of a lifetime’


Rodney Duffy, who graduated from the University of New England with a PhD degree in aquatic science in April this year, has spent the past six months at the Yantai Institute of Coastal Zone Research in China as a volunteer in the Australian Youth Ambassadors for Development (AYAD) program.

The AYAD program, funded by the Australian Government through AusAID, places skilled young Australian volunteers on short-term assignments in developing countries throughout the Asia Pacific region. While using their skills and expertise to contribute to international development, the Youth Ambassadors gain an increased understanding of the development needs of Australia’s neighbouring countries and broaden their experience by living and working in a cross-cultural environment.

“I decided to take up the offer of this AYAD placement in China because it would allow me to gain a first-hand understanding of environmental issues in a developing country – and would be the adventure of a lifetime,” Dr Duffy said. “As the Yantai Institute undertakes research into land, ocean, and coastal zone interactions, I thought the position offered an excellent application of my research experience in oceans, estuaries, and freshwater ecosystems.”

The Institute, in the coastal city of Yantai in Shandong province, is affiliated with the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Dr Duffy’s role has included involvement in the scientific program of the Institute, sharing his knowledge of coastal zone research in Australia, and helping the Institute to develop through the promotion of its work. He has been involved in field work looking at species diversity in the Yellow River Delta, has given presentations about coastal research in Australia, and has given a lecture series informing students at the Institute about modern scientific techniques as well as potential difficulties in cross-cultural communication.

“The science here is very advanced,” Dr Duffy said, “and I’ve learnt a lot too – not just about different scientific methods, but also about methods to enhance my own communication skills. I’ve formed life-long friendships, and have become part of an international network of researchers that will aid my future career.”

“On arrival in Yantai,” he said, “it was straight to work – reading a lot of reports to get my head around the diverse range of research undertaken at the Institute, and giving a presentation to school students on ‘Australian coastal zone issues and management’ (using Nemo, living on the Great Barrier Reef, to cross cultural barriers).”

“I was immediately struck by China’s mixture of developed and undeveloped areas,” he recalled. “While I live in a 20-storey building with air-conditioning, lifts, and all the ‘mod cons’, I can look out of the window and see people tending their crops right next to my apartment. Across the road from the Institute are some brand-new shopping malls, while about 500 metres down the road is a more traditional market selling everything you can imagine.

“I was also surprised by the level of environmental awareness here: people in the Institute are extremely careful to keep office lights turned off – not only when away from work, but during the day. People in Australian offices could learn a lot from this!”