A DIFFICULT decision to walk away from a successful real estate career has paid dividends for Willagee resident Claire Greenwell.
Earlier this month the Murdoch University student was named as the winner of a $10,000 Banksia Association Honours Scholarship that will allow her to pursue her marine research ambitions.
Ms Greenwell fell in love with the ocean as a child but took a job as a real estate sales assistant on the advice of a family friend working in an employment agency.
“For as long as I can remember I’ve had a passion for the environment and particularly the ocean,” she said.
“That probably began with my dad taking me out on the boat all the time during family holidays to Hamelin Bay and then as a child I had an underwater-themed room with nets hanging up and fish everywhere – it’s just always been close to my heart.”
After 12 years in real estate, Ms Greenwell enrolled at Murdoch University as a part-time student in 2012.
“I really enjoyed my time in real estate but the turning point probably came in 2011 when I started volunteering at a couple of wildlife shelters which made me realise I probably wasn’t working in the field I was meant to be in,” she said.
Since beginning her studies Ms Greenwell has achieved 11 high distinctions and seven distinctions and earlier this year was awarded the Vice Chancellor’s Award for Academic Excellence and the Marine and Freshwater Research Laboratory Prize in Oceanography.
She said attending university as a mature student gave her focus and appreciation for the opportunities on offer.
“When you leave school you’re young and you can get distracted by going out drinking and having fun,” she said.
“I was paying for my own degree and battling to pay bills so that makes you work harder to make the most of it.
“I never expected to do so well but it helps when you love what you’re doing and have amazing people, like the lecturers at Murdoch, around.”
After completing a double major in conservation and wildlife biology and marine science, Ms Greenwell will use the Banksia scholarship to support herself as she tackles an honours project looking at the impact of the Western Gloomy Octopus as a predator of Greenlip Abalone in Flinders Bay, Augusta.
Her research is also supported by Ocean Grown Abalone, a commercial company ranching abalone on artificial habitats in the region.
She then hopes to do a PhD.