28th September 2023
By Nicole Miller - Communications Officer, IAG
A passion for animals, and their interactions with humans, excites Australian geographer Professor Jen Carter. We sat down with Jen to discuss her research interests, career and insights into geography fields that make up the geography community.












A passion for animals, and their interactions with humans, excites Australian geographer Professor Jen Carter. We sat down with Jen to discuss her research interests, career and insights into geography fields that make up the geography community.

Professor Jen Carter has been president of the Institute of Australian Geographers (IAG) since July 2022. She has also served on Council as Newsletter Editor, Honorary Secretary and Vice-President (President Elect) since 2013.

Jen retired from the University of the Sunshine Coast (USC), where she worked until early 2023 as Geography Discipline Leader. She lives on the beautiful Sunshine Coast, where she continues to contribute to the Australian geography community.

What’s your speciality within the field of geography?

I have lots of interests. Geography is a discipline that allows those of us who are interested to explore many of its ‘fields of specialisation’. In particular, I am excited by animal geography – both the more recent ‘more-than-human’ or critical animal geography, but also earlier ways of researching the non-human other including biogeography. My Honours research was in that field. I’m also very interested in rural geography and development geography, and my PhD was in Indigenous geography.


Jen’s research has included calls for more pet adoption campaigns to encourage people to adopt from animal shelters. Credit: Canva.

Could you tell us about one of your research projects?

One of my more recent research projects looked at reasons people surrender nonhuman animals to shelters on the Sunshine Coast. This is a key problem given many re-homable pets are euthanised every year in Australia.

The key reason for surrender of pets was that owners were unable to take their pets to new accommodation, which has now been addressed in some places with changes to renters’ rights with the onus on landlords to provide reasons that a pet shouldn’t be allowed. This is very important in places where rental properties are in high demand. Another reason is that many humans don’t really know how to care for their pet.

We proposed some minimum requirements or training about caring and potential behaviours that potential pet-owners need to understand before adopting. We also suggested campaigns to adopt surrendered animals rather than buying from pet shops; and for shelters to have networks of people available for short-term foster care (increasing) for when pet-owners are incapacitated for a short-term and wish to take their pet home again when they can do so.

Why and how did you get into your field of expertise?

I’m passionate about geography and non-human animals. Geography is the study of place, space and the environment and the ways non-human animals enrich our places and spaces is an obvious topic for geographers. Having said that, there is lots more we can do to ensure a more geo-ethical world in terms of the decisions and impacts of humans for non-humans.

What’s one of your most memorable research experiences and why this stands out?

One of my most memorable field trips was working with Wik peoples in western Cape York Peninsula, where I spent a lot of time over three and a half years. We were at a remote location on a beach, and I looked up and saw two white-bellied sea eagles with their talons locked in combat as they spiralled to earth, before one pulled out. I’d seen a similar behaviour with another raptor species on one of David Attenborough’s shows and I had always wanted to see this spectacular feat because I love raptors. We always caught lunch while we were out working in the field, and we left some of the fish for the sea eagles to eat.


A white-bellied sea eagle – read more about these birds at the bottom of the story. Credit: Canva.

What are you most proud of in your geography career and why?

I’m most proud of setting up a strong geography major at the University of the Sunshine Coast.   Courses in the major are studied in various programs from different faculties. The major remains in demand by students.

What would you say to someone considering studying anything within the field of geography?

Geography is one of the most highly employable disciplines. It connects humans with the rest of the world, using spatial thinking, place-based understandings, and a visual way of exploring our human and natural landscapes. Geography gives us a way of looking at our world that is fundamental to many professions and critical for studying our future complex global challenges e.g. climate change, increasing urbanisation, biodiversity loss, and human services. 


Members of the IAG Cultural Study Group organised a quilting workshop during the 2023 conference. Credit: Dr Natasha Pauli.

IAG members can join up to three Study Groups. Why are IAG Study Groups important?

Study Groups are ways geographers connect with others in their field of speciality. They offer collegiality, the latest knowledge, and support.

Why are mentors important for geography researchers?

Having someone that you can ring up and talk through a problem is critical for academics and most professionals I would imagine.

There are some people who have been those mentors to me – they were never in a ‘formal’ mentoring system, but they were giants of the discipline, or people who were more senior than me, and with expertise in the same fields as mine. They were generous with their time, honest and spot-on with their advice. In particular, such mentors are critical when working in a small university or a profession with few or no other geographers to talk to.

Being an IAG member connects you to many researchers that can lead to formal or informal mentoring relationships. It’s a community that I’m proud to be involved with.

Do you have any tips for early career researchers about how to get research funding?

Focus on what the purpose of the funding is for, then write your grant around that purpose. Explain how the award of funds for your research would be mutually beneficial to the organisation granting the funds.

Do you have any tips for early career researchers about how to get published?

Take on board any advice by reviewers and be prepared to make as many changes as possible. Don’t give up if the publication is not accepted immediately. Even if the journal doesn’t accept your revisions to a manuscript, the manuscript can be submitted elsewhere.


IAG Conference attendees chat between sessions. Credit: Xavier Leenders.

Why should people join the IAG?

From the moment I walked into my first IAG conference as a young early career academic, I felt welcomed and supported. I didn’t know anyone but met a professor in my field of research whose name I knew. I went and introduced myself and he said, “Welcome to the family”. I’ve felt that the IAG is my professional family ever since. 

Find out more about an IAG membership

Find out about the membership benefits when you join the Institute of Australian Geographers community.

Geography careers

A geography career offers many opportunities to pursue diverse research interests. Read our geography careers page.

About the White-bellied Sea Eagle

Find out more about the white-bellied sea eagles on the NSW Parks and Wildlife Service and Australian Museum about the white-bellied sea eagle.

Professor Jen Carter has not contributed to, or validated the information on, either of these pages.


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