Ms. Rima Browne, Cook Islands

Recipient of the fourth Edition of the
ISA Secretary-General Award for Excellence in Deep-sea Research

Please tell us a little bit about yourself

My name is Rima Browne, and I am a geographer from Cook Islands, a large ocean State in the South Pacific, made of 15 small islands. I was born and raised on the main island, Rarotonga, with a population of just 12,000 inhabitants, so we all know each other! Another interesting fact: it takes just over an hour to drive around the entire island.

I work at the Cook Islands Seabed Minerals Authority, and I joined the team five years ago. To me, the workplace is very dynamic and exciting, with room for deep learning and evolvement. I love to collaborate with experts and scientists from other countries, and I have been privileged to go on several marine expeditions.

It is at the sea that marine exploration becomes real. In 2019, I did an expedition to the Chatham Rise on RV Tangaroa, and it was especially memorable because it was my first time out at sea. We deployed a wide range of equipment, and the processing of samples was intense work. In the last two years, I have also been part of many projects in technical areas.

My main motivation as a geographer is to serve our people. I am truly fortunate to be involved in science, as there is so much to learn and so many ways to contribute. To me, it is very important to present scientific facts and interpretations in a way that can be understood by as many people as possible. In the Cook Islands, we are embarking on a major new chapter regarding our scientific understanding of the seabed, and it is my hope that we will be able to share this knowledge with our grandchildren in the future.

Another thing about myself: work-life balance is very important to me. Time with my family and time to play sports are priorities – I love being part of a team that is working towards a common goal. I take great pride in having the chance to be in a team representing my village, and occasionally my country. Even though I am not the world´s greatest traveler, I do enjoy meeting fellow scientists and people who love sports around the world.

Why did you choose to become a marine scientist? Did you have a role model that influenced your decision?

For anyone growing up in the Pacific, it would be difficult not to have a connection with the ocean. Growing up, it was part of my routine to swim on the beach and to dive in the lagoon. Our island is a spec in the vastness of the ocean, and I have a healthy respect for the ocean’s immense size and power.

My grades were sufficient for me to start studying to be an engineer while attending university, but quickly I found out that my interest in maps grew, hence geography.

My role model has always been my mother, because she is capable of showing all her love and her strength, in good and bad times. She had me as a teenager, so her whole life changed from one day to the other – from being a young child one day and then having to take care of me as a newborn. My mother has always pushed me to work hard and get a good education as a way for me to get the best quality of life possible.

How is it to be a woman marine scientist?

I have been fortunate in my career, and I can honestly say that I never felt that my gender was holding me back, during my studies, at work or doing field research at sea. I am not saying that this does not happen in the Cook Islands, but our people are progressive, so it is my hope that my experience will become the norm.

What (or who) motivated you in difficult times?

My family, especially my mother, when I lost my way. My teachers, especially Mr. Papatua, who made me like sciences in 8th grade. And, my team, because in turbulent times, they have been the biggest supporters of my professional and personal goals. It is always comforting to know that you have people rooting for you, no matter what.

I also have to say that our research base in the Cook Islands is very limited, so partnerships with experts from overseas help us to advance our knowledge and progress.

In your opinion, which changes, if any, are needed in the marine research sphere to be more attractive to and more supportive of women scientists?

The sacrifices that you need to make in order to be able to go to the sea for months in a row are a real challenge.  Especially for my family and because of that, I have so much respect for my fellow scientists of all genders who make this commitment. I also believe that in this field, there’s room for improvement in some areas: we need better planning, better communications systems inside the vessels, for example – some ideas that will help everyone in our exciting sector, but especially researchers that are mothers.

If you had the opportunity to give advice to a younger version of yourself, what would it be?

Be confident, stay on course, take up any opportunities that may arise in any area of your life, push the boundaries harder into the unknown. I am proud of what I have achieved so far, but you can achieve even more!