Nicole Watson – AVCAT Scholar

Nicole Watson in a graduation cap and gown

‘Like many disabled scholars I refuse to let my impairments control my life, I will find other ways to make my dreams happen.’

By Nicole Watson

I am incredibly humbled to be awarded the 2021 RSL Queensland Scholarship and to be an AVCAT Scholar. My family has been a part of the Australian Defence Force for many generations and served, in all conditions and many conflicts. My mother, father, grandfather, great uncles and great-great grandfathers all served.

Since childhood I have had a strong passion for animals, and otters in particular. I dreamed of becoming a zookeeper. All through primary and secondary school I aimed to fulfil this dream, albeit with a few changes along the way.

For years I was undecided on where I wanted to take my future education, but a very specific epiphany struck while I was studying in Japan of all places – I want to become an ethologist. And more precisely, I want to study and research the behaviours of the remerging Eurasian Otter behaviour in Sweden. I want to know what they do, how they do it and why.

I discovered The University of Stockholm has a highly specialised master’s degree in mammal ethology. As such, for the past two years I’ve been in contact with the Stockholm University and have been completing the stated course prerequisites, both within my home university, and via distance education with Flinders University.

In 2020 I discovered the Dogs for Conservation Program at USC and was greatly intrigued at the utilisation of sniffer dogs to assist in monitoring endangered species. I then came up with the idea to recreate the detection dog program for otters in Sweden. I have been in contact with the program coordinators and have applied to volunteer to further expand my knowledge and gain hands-on experience.

Unfortunately, since my return to Australia at the end of 2018, my disabilities have increasingly deteriorated, forcing me to review my current approach to achieving my educational goals. But like many disabled scholars I refuse to let my impairments control my life, I will find other ways to make my dreams happen.

Nicole Watson interacting with an otter
Nicole and otter

I would like to dedicate this scholarship to my mother who served in the Australian Navy for seven years in the communication sector.She had the strength, compassion and resilience to raise two daughters alone, one of whom was born with a chronic disability, while battling with mental and physical illness herself after exiting the ADF.

Without the guidance and never-ending support of my mother, my current position in the community and my life-changing experiences would never have occurred. So, to my mother Cheryl – I love you and thank you with all my being. I hope that I can continue to make you and our family proud.

I am extraordinarily grateful for AVCAT and RSL Queensland’s generosity and support. I hope that in the future I can pay forward their kindness as an academic, and as a beacon of hope for others in the community with a disability.

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