La Trobe student Nicole Peruzzi is taking an unconventional approach to a future in climate science. But after all, isn’t that what the world needs? A different way of looking at things. Evidence-based approaches. Excellent science communicators. Nicole’s arming herself with the tools she’ll need to make a difference in what is one of the biggest global issues of our time. The road to uncovering her direction has been windy, but it’s leading to a bright future.
Embracing the zigzag
In secondary school, Nicole Peruzzi thought she wanted to become a veterinarian. She loved animals and had undertaken work experience in Year 10 at a veterinary clinic, so it seemed like the right move. After Year 12, Nicole left the small New South Wales town of Griffith where she grew up and made the move to Melbourne, enrolling in La Trobe’s Bachelor of Animal and Veterinary Biosciences.
In first year, some of her coursework included learning about plants—a topic she was completely disinterested in at the time.
“Don’t even talk to me about photosynthesis!” she jokes.
Along the way, however, Nicole’s love of plants started to grow. She discovered botany, a study area that explores the intersection between plants and society. It’s also an area of science at the forefront of dealing with challenges like sustainability, environmental issues, the management of natural resources and global food supply. Plants weren’t so boring after all, Nicole realised. She decided switch up her qualification, making it a double degree by adding a Bachelor of Science majoring in botany.
Nicole advocates that students not be afraid to pursue their passions, even if it means changing things up.
“I think we should embrace having this kind of zigzag path,” she says. “It should be celebrated, pursuing what you love. Jobs exist now that didn’t exist 10 years ago, so who knows what options will be available in even five years’ time.
“I’d encourage everyone to take up an interest in science. It’s just so fascinating to learn about the world. It influences your perceptions on life. It’s definitely changed mine over the years, and for the better.”
By taking a ‘zigzag approach,’ rather than the direct route, Nicole has been able to gain confidence and knowledge in a broader range of study areas. She sees this as a great way to enhance her employability by differentiating herself from the competition.
Stepping outside the classroom
“I really enjoy what I’m learning about in class,” she says. “And it’s not just in class, either. We work on real-world problems with teachers who are passionate experts. In one of my subjects, we undertook a research project on salinity. We could see the direct link between what we were learning and how it could impact on farming or other industries.”
Nicole is pleased her botany degree subjects are tailored to include work experience. As part of her studies, she travelled to Natimuk, near Horsham, on a five-day fieldwork trip.
“We did surveys for revegetation sites, which actually helped real companies,” she says. “The work we did contributed to botanical science too. It was pretty exciting, and there are a lot more field work subjects on offer too.”
While maximising the opportunities through her course, Nicole is also taking other steps to stand out from the competition. She’s used services from La Trobe’s Career Ready program as well. Through Career Ready, Nicole has received feedback on her resume and gained guidance on the placement process. It’s made it easier for Nicole to find a great workplace fit and allowed her to put her best foot forward when approaching companies.
Nicole’s extracurricular activities are no doubt increasing her employability too. She volunteers with the La Trobe Wildlife Sanctuary and has been a member of the La Trobe Tennis Club and the La Trobe Animal and Veterinary Zoology Society. She also volunteered as a puppy socialiser for assistance dogs in training, who’ll one day help returned veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
“Clubs are a lot of fun, and it’s been really nice to meet so many great people,” she says. “Moving to Melbourne from a small country town, it was a little scary at first. Clubs made it so much easier to make new friends with similar interests, who were all different in their own way.”
Discovering Nicole’s true passion: climate science
Nicole has well and truly found her feet at La Trobe. Her coursework in science and the opportunities she’s taken part in outside the classroom have resulted in the discovery of Nicole’s greatest interest.
“I found a real passion for the environment and climate science. Humanity has such an impact on the environment. But I’ve also learnt how many potential solutions are out there. I feel hopeful when I see countries that are going full carbon zero and supporting things like cycling and renewable energy.
“I think it’s the responsibility of the scientific community to educate those without a scientific background. It’s not an easy task. I remember back at home being so confused by the political agendas and commercial interests. Coming to university and learning about the facts on my own—it was eye-opening. I felt like the seriousness of it hadn’t been communicated to me before. I’d really like to help educate people and be part of the change that’s needed.”
Nicole isn’t taking the direct route to a career in climate science by studying an environmental science degree. Instead, she’s gaining multidisciplinary knowledge and confidence in a range of areas to bring something new and different to her future roles.
She’s now focused on studying the adaptations of populations in response to climate change, which uses both sides of her double degree.
“I’m passionate about reducing the impact of climate change on the environment and on people,” she says. “I want to make a difference.”
Now, more than ever, the world needs leaders in science. Study Science at La Trobe and make a difference.