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Mining machinery against the sky at dusk

Dear 16-year-old me: advice from UQ’s Dr Anita Parbhakar-Fox

UQ people
Published 30 Jun, 2020  ·  6 minute read

“If you had the opportunity to write a letter to your sixteen year old self, what would you tell her?”

This is the question we posed to Dr Anita Parbhakar-Fox.

Read on to find out what she wishes her younger self could have known.


Dr Anita Parbhakar-Fox is a Senior Research Fellow at UQ’s Sustainable Minerals Institute.

Dear Anita

I am writing to you from 20 years in the future. 

I’m not going to detail the events of your life, but I will tell you three things. 

First, you are going to go grey in your late 20s. Mum won’t tell you this, but it is worth spending the money on getting it recoloured at a salon. 

Second, your eyebrows will eventually grow back, but please, don’t keep messing with them. 

And third, you’re going to go on an international adventure that you couldn’t even begin to imagine. 

As you look out across the village of Swanscombe in Kent, England, madly revising for your GCSEs, I want you to imagine a future looking at a totally different landscape. A mining landscape. 

You have no idea what I mean yet, but you will in time.

I know right now you are confused about what to do when you go to university and beyond, but let me ask – what subject are you revising just now? 

Your favourites, I’m guessing – geography and chemistry. 

What if I was to tell you that you will indeed end up in a career where you get to put into practice all the lessons you have learned? Sound good?  

You are going to have a chance to help the natural environment in a way that you don’t even know about yet. 

Acid and metalliferous drainage, you haven’t even heard of this yet, but its management is going to be the focus of the first part of your career. You enjoyed your geography field work right? Getting into river channels and measuring their physical characteristics… imagine looking back through the Earth’s history and looking at prehistoric channels and analysing them! 

This will be just one of the many field trips you’ll undertake at university. 

Beyond that, things are going to get far more diverse. You will be in charge of shallow drilling rigs where your objective will be to define contamination and to design rehabilitation programs to clean it up. 

But this isn’t even the highlight! 

You are going to hang-up your personal protective equipment (PPE) for the trip of a lifetime Down Under, where you will continue your education and start your journey in the mining industry.  

You will be fortunate to do this in partnership with an exceptional man whom you are soon to meet, and you’ll be pleased to hear, who will become your lifelong companion. 

Together, you will break down boundaries that seem unimaginable to you. 

A mixed-race marriage really will be a first for your family. You will raise your kids in a manner that will challenge your cultural convention. He will know how to cook and is a natural nurturer to your kids, while you will feel far more comfortable as the breadwinner focused on career development. 

In 2020, this is OK. Gender roles for parents are not as defined as they were for Mum and Dad. 

You’ll at times be frustrated that your elders will overlook your professional achievements – even though your entire childhood you were encouraged to study hard, now you feel you are judged for being too work-focused and by your incompetence when it comes to making a round chapatti. 

But don’t look up the generations – look down! 

Be proud of the role model you’ll be to your kids and their friends. It will be big source of pride the day you pick them up from their day care in your high-vis PPE, seeing the looks on the girls’ faces when they see that a mum can wear steel toecap boots too. 

It is with your partner’s support and belief that you will feel confident to realise your potential. He isn’t the only constant in your life; three of your school friends, your emotional safety net, will also be a daily source of relief and wisdom as you each navigate the nonsense of being an adult – motherhood, ageing parents, health scares, and fighting the ongoing battle for female equity. 

Because, while there is so much to look forward to, gender equity will not be reached until well into the 2200s, they predict. 

You don’t really have a concept of this right now, as you are studying at an all-girls school, but things are not equal and this will annoy you. 

But, in the mining industry, things are starting to change. You have been very lucky to be you at this very time, coupled with a career focused on managing mine waste, and you will have a great opportunity to make positive changes through training other young women through teaching and supervising their research, to putting yourself out there in the international community talking about mine waste. 

And I may add, you are going to have a great deal of fun doing it. 

I can’t say too much – I don’t want to give it all away – but I want to leave you with some advice:

Always believe in yourself 

You have a tremendous amount of focus and resilience – these are the key skills that will get you through and help you conquer the mountains. Believe me, there will be many. 

The best things happen in teams 

You are so used to working independently, but actually, linking your skills with others will create the best possible outcome for the environment, which you will continue to care passionately about. 

Don’t take yourself too seriously 

While you are professional, it is important to remember that the majority of your waking moments are at work, so it should also be fun!

Get out of your comfort zone 

Because of the changes in attitude towards both women and mine waste management, you will be given lots of opportunities to speak about your work. You’ll even be on TV a few times!

Naturally, you are an introvert, but you will eventually learn that behaving like one will be a source of frustration. You have a voice and you will want to use it, so say yes to legitimate opportunities, no matter how ridiculous they may seem at the time. They will put you on a pathway to becoming the best possible woman you can be. 

Cherish personal relationships

There will be dark days, and these bonds will be the light to get you through.

Finally, exercise 

You will find that making time to look after yourself will be the best way to keep your mind healthy and productive.

I’m sure you’ve got a lot of questions, but get back to your books and study hard… because the best really is yet to come, for you and for me.    



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About Anita

Dr Anita Parbhakar-Fox is a Senior Research Fellow in Geometallurgy and Applied Geochemistry at the WH Bryan Mining and Geology Research Centre within the Sustainable Minerals Institute at UQ. 

Anita’s research focuses on improving mine planning and waste management practices, by working with mining industry; the Mining, Equipment, Technology and Services (METS) sector; and government stakeholders. 

She has developed new tests and protocols for improving waste characterisation and is also involved in identifying remediation options for abandoned/ historical mine sites. 

Most recently, Anita has led industry- and government-funded projects characterising a range of mine waste materials to evaluate their economic potential. 

Before completing her PhD in 2012 at the Centre for Ore Deposit and Earth Sciences, Anita obtained a first class MSci (Hons) degree from the Royal School of Mines, Imperial College (University of London) in Environmental Geology.

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