Dr Tayanah O’Donnell (IAG ‘PLACE’)

Dr Tayanah O’Donnell completed her PhD, Exploring a Coastal Landscape: A legal geography of coastal climate change adaptation in two NSW localities (Western Sydney University, NSW) in 2017. She is currently the Executive Director of the Australian Academy of Science (AAS), a role she has held since March 2018.

As Executive Director of the AAS Tayanah holds a senior leadership position representing the Australian and Pacific region’s Future Earth node, which is part of a global consortium operating under the auspices of the International Science Council. Her responsibilities and achievements in this senior executive role include engagement with University Vice Chancellors and Deputy Vice Chancellors (Research), Federal and State government Ministers, senior government advisors, senior industry representatives, and senior decision makers within government. In this position she has also led scientific advocacy of particular relevance to our geographical community through her efforts to build communities of practice to inform a national sustainability agenda. This position is one of five senior leaders within the Australian Academy of Science secretariat.

Tayanah has successfully transitioned from an early career in the legal profession to embrace the interdisciplinarity embedded with our geographical community. She has embraced leadership through her Co-convenorship of the IAG’s Legal Geography Study Group for the past few years. In this role she has brought colleagues together through, for example, hosting the National One-Day Legal Geography Symposium, at the University of Canberra (March 2018).

More pointedly, however, Tayanah’s leadership within the IAG Legal Geography community enabled the publication of a significant edited collection in the field which places the Australian School of legal geography at the forefront of global scholarship in this field. In her leadership of the edited collection, of the 2020 book, Legal Geography: Perspectives and Methods (Routledge, UK) we see pioneering efforts which take Australasian geographical scholarship to a new level especially given that this publication is the first legal geography book to explicitly engage in method and methodology. The publishers, Routledge explain: “Legal Geography: Perspectives and Methods is an innovative book concerned with a new relational and material way of examining our legal-spatial world. … This book examines the role of legal geographies in the 21st century beyond the simple “law in action”, and it will thus appeal to students of socio-legal studies, human geography, environmental studies, environmental policy, as well as politics and international relations.” Tayanah was instrumental in ensuring this publication came to fruition. Her organisation skills are impeccable and her ability to draw people together were integral to the success of this project and publication.

Tayanah’s scholarship is also of particular influence in policy circles (addressing geography’s remit to policy-relevant contributions). The publication of the following papers in geographical journals demonstrate Tayanah’s disciplinary expertise in the area of coastal adaptation:

Tayanah’s capacity is notable for an early-career scholar. She has led national strategy and consultation projects on topics such as sustainable cities and regions, climate change risk and financial disclosure, circular economy, and, more recently, sustainable waterways and coastal systems (this work is currently underway). Her deep engagement is evident in the facilitation of stakeholder workshops across the country with senior government officials, senior researchers, civil society, and peak industry groups.

As an early career scholar, Tayanah has taken energetic and catalysing steps in an emerging and powerful interdisciplinary legal geography effort.

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