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Researcher biography

Karen is a Professor and ARC Future Fellow in the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences at UQ. She is ultimately interested in how people experience and can improve their capacities to respond to the triple crises of poverty, disaster risk, and climate change. Karen has been undertaking applied and policy-relevant research in resilient livelihoods, community-based adaptation, non-economic loss and recovery, human mobility, and gender for close to 20 years, partnering with governments, and inter-governmental and non-governmental organisations throughout the Asia-Pacific region. She has published over 100 journal papers and book chapters, and over 70 reports, online commentaries, and policy briefs.

Karen currently leads several grants with the Australian Research Council (ARC), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), and the Vanuatu Government. Her ARC Future Fellowship, in partnership with local grassroots organisations and researchers, is deeply exploring non-economic loss as a result of environmental change and identifying ways of working through such loss and grief in Australia, the Cook Islands, Fiji, and Vanuatu. She is working closely with the Vanuatu Government to ascertain how the impacts of climate change impinge on people's human rights, as part of the Government's quest for climate justice through the UN and International Court of Justice. She is also leading a project for the OECD looking at climate change adaptation governance across the Pacific Islands region and is involved in an ARC Discovery project on everyday experienes of sea-level rise and relocation. She recently completed two ARC Linkage projects, one of which evaluated 32 community-based adaptation initiatives in 20 rural communities across Fiji, the Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati and Vanuatu. Here, Karen and others identified four interdependent points for optimising future adaptation whereby initiatives are wholly led by local people and institutions. Karen has managed over 25 research and capacity building grants as lead or named CI totalling over AU$6.5 million for the ARC, Australian Government, Scope Global, United Nations Development Programme, and others.

Karen has supervised 12 PhD students to completion (8 as Principal) who have gone onto exciting roles in universities, the United Nations and consultancy firms. She is currently supervising 6 PhD students, teaches a large course on Applied Research Methods each year and is currently piloting a UQ 'flagship' course for undergraduate students on 'Complexity, Action, and Sustainable Futures'. She is Editor of Asia Pacific Viewpoint and PLOS Climate and is on several editorial boards. She was the Inagural 'Environment' Theme Lead for UQ's Global Development Hub (2021-2022).

Prior to taking up her position at UQ, Karen was a Research Consultant at the University of the South Pacific based in Fiji (2011-2012). From 2008-2011, Karen was based in Cairns at James Cook University managing major research projects in the Wet Tropics rainforest and Torres Strait for the Marine and Tropical Sciences Research Facility and National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility. Prior to this, Karen worked for the NSW Government (2007) and in various roles at the University of New South Wales (2002-2006).

Karen proudly comes from the small town of Quirindi, which is Kamilaroi Country, on the Liverpool Plains in NSW. Growing up in a small, close-knit country town sparked Karen’s interest in social, development and environmental issues in rural communities.