Researcher biography

Karen is a development geographer that is ultimately interested in how livelihoods (in the broadest sense) can be enhanced to respond to the triple crises of poverty, disaster risk and climate change. Karen is an ARC Future Fellow (2020-2024) and Associate Professor in the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences at The University of Queensland (UQ). Karen has been undertaking applied and policy-relevant research in resilient livelihoods, climate change adaptation, non-economic loss and recovery, human mobility and gender for over fifteen 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 a number of grants with the ARC, DFAT and Palladium. Her ARC Future Fellowship, in partnership with local grassroots organisations, is exploring non-economic loss as a result of environmental change and identifying ways of working through this loss and grief in three Pacific Island countries. She has recently completed an ARC Linkage project that evaluated 32 community-based adaptation initiatives in 20 rural communities across Fiji, Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati and Vanuatu, which identified four interdependent points for optimising future adaptation whereby initiatives are wholly led by local people and institutions. She is currently involved in two other ARC projects looking at transformative mobilities (Linkage) and everyday experiences of sea-level rise (Discovery). Karen has managed over 20 research grants as lead or named CI totalling over AU$3 million for the ARC, Australian Government, United Nations Development Programme, and others.

Karen has supervised 11 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 7 PhD students, teaches a large course on Applied Research Methods each year and is currently developing a UQ360 flagship course for undergraduate students on 'Complexity, Action, and Sustainable Futures' for delivery in 2022. She is Editor of Asia Pacific Viewpoint and is on a number of editorial boards.

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.