Young Writers at IMAS – Jessica Cockerill.

This year, between October and December, Jessica Cockerill and Suzi Claflin have been provided a hot-desk and access to scientists, artifacts and research (within approved bounds) at the IMAS research institute so that they can create a piece of writing that will help expose IMAS work to the public.

Check out these interviews to learn more about their experience.

To start with, can you tell me a bit about yourself and your journey as a writer so far?

My early interest in writing was mostly creative: in high school I wrote a lot of moody poems and embarked on a few very ambitious and rather terrible “novels”. But as a faithful ecophile, I have always wanted to find a way to bring together my writing and my interest in social and ecological justice. Journalism seemed to be the answer – I had some opportunity to start with my student newspaper, publishing articles and science columns – and after university I worked at a Western Australian newspaper, before moving east in pursuit of new adventures and stories.

How did you hear about this opportunity? Were you members of the writers centre?

I heard about this opportunity through a good friend of mine, a science teacher back in WA. She is always looking for opportunities for her students, but knowing my interest in science writing, she sent me the advertisement and though I was not based in Tasmania, I decided to give it a shot.

What did you have to do to apply?

Applying simply involved sharing a bit about my experience and background, what I would get out of the residency, and what I planned to do with it. I gave a basic outline of my interest in my chosen topic ‘species on the move’, and the kind of format I thought my nonfiction piece might take.

Are you currently studying at University?

No, I completed my undergraduate degree in 2015, but I plan to return for a Masters in 2018.

Describe a typical day on this residency.

It’s hard to pin down what a ‘typical’ day would be: some days were spent sitting alone at my desk reading, taking notes, watching conference videos, while other days I met with researchers at their work sites – from the facility at Taroona, to a living midden at Opossum Bay.

How many days a week are you at your hot desk?

Probably about three-four days a week, for three weeks.

How long is your project going to be?

I am aiming for a 3000-word essay, although I’m hoping the formatting will be somewhat creative. I plan to include intertextual pieces, captioned photos/collage and comic strips to engage readers in a novel way.

Can you tell me what it is about?

My essay investigates an emergent field of science, ‘Species on the Move’. While species migration has been studied for decades, climate change really has thrown ecologists a curveball. In 2016 IMAS hosted the first-ever international conference focusing on ‘Species on the Move’, and in my essay I will convey a vision of our future oceans using the anecdotes, research and experiences of my interview subjects.

Has it been difficult finding a focus for your piece?

At first I was overwhelmed by the global nature of ‘Species on the Move’ as a subject. However, from past experience I’ve found the best stories arise from experiences you can have first-hand, and so I chose to focus on Tasmania’s past, present and future oceans as a case study, allowing me to narrow down the focus of my essay. Upon realizing that Tasmania had a perfect ‘Species on the Move’ story – the invasion of sea urchins into diverse, economically and socially valuable giant kelp forests – it became easier to progress.

Do you normally write non-fiction, or is this a new experience for you?

I have often written non-fiction, though this is my first active attempt at creative/experimental non-fiction, incorporating visual and narrative elements to help tell a story rather than just presenting an “objective” news story.

What have been some of the most inspiring spaces for you at IMAS?

Though it’s not relevant to my project, I was amazed by the quarantine and refrigeration process of the Antarctic labs: one day I arrived at IMAS and through a window I could see part of an iceberg sitting atop a stainless steel bench.

I also enjoyed visiting the facility at Taroona, which has a very classical ‘biology lab’ feel thanks to the petri dishes, sample jars, microscopes, slides, and more. One of the labs had a fantastic view of the Derwent River mouth. However, the best experience was getting out into the field, as it was quite difficult to freely access laboratories or know what was relevant. Most of the researchers I interviewed did not currently have lab experiments running.

Have you been out on any of the IMAS boats?

Though Scott Ling and I did discuss getting out on a boat to see some sea urchins firsthand, the weather sadly held us back.

What are your plans for the future?

I plan to continue working in journalism, and specifically science communication. Next year I’m planning to further my studies at the University of Melbourne, and continue freelancing.