WHEN Jan Watson went to the School of Mines office asking to be a geologist, she was instead sent down a different path.
Her passion, determination and focus led her to become one of Australia's leading marine biologists.
Dr Watson, now living on the Bellarine Peninsula, grew up near Lake Wendouree and laughed when asked if she had notion of the aquatic lifestyle and career that would follow. The lake did not have that kind of influence at all.
Jeanette Watson, as she was known then, was the first female science student at School of Mines Ballarat in 1943. She graduated in 1947 and worked as a metallurgical chemist in Ballarat and Melbourne.
It was in the 1960s that Dr Watson ventured into the water as one of the first marine biologists in southern Australia to take up scuba diving, self-taught.
I just enjoy finding out things.Dr Jan Watson
"I just enjoy finding out things," Dr Watson said.
Marine science did not exist when Dr Watson was at school.
Dr Watson knew she wanted to pursue science and, despite it very much being a man's world, she held an unwavering belief she could achieve.
"Originally when I said I wanted to go to the School of Mines my mother did not like it. My father paid the first term's fee and he said 'don't fail'," Dr Watson said.
"I went to the office at the School of Mines and said I wanted to be a geologist. They looked a bit askance at me and sent me to the principal's office.
"The old principal roared laughing. He said 'a woman can't be a geologist' but he let me study applied chemistry instead."
The old principal roared laughing. He said 'a woman can't be a geologist'Dr Jan Watson
Most of the young men in Dr Waton's classes did not want her there.
It was an incredibly difficult experience but Dr Watson "just stood it out" and kept focused on her studies.
This was an approach she has taken throughout her career.
It was with friends Dr Watson had her first introduction to learn how to dive and after practising in a swimming pool, she found the confidence to take her first sea dive at Pope's Eye in Port Phillip Bay.
Dr Watson started scuba diving to start collecting organisms and try and find out what they were. This was how she developed her passion for marine life, biology and hydroids, colourful small creatures related to jellys, anemones and corals that form clusters on rocks and sea weed.
You had to teach yourself. My first sea dive, I was a bit scared but you have a go and keep on going.Dr Jan Watson
"You had to teach yourself (how to scuba dive). My first sea dive, I was a bit scared but you have a go and keep on going," Dr Watson said.
To keep going is Dr Watson's advice for young women interested in studying science beyond school or a career in science.
While still a male-dominated industry, Dr Watson said the world had much changed since she first stepped up the the School of Mines' office.
"I don't think women face barriers today," Dr Watson said. "I don't think there is much to stand in their way."
I don't think there is much to stand in (women's) way.Dr Jan Watson
The 93-year-old still works in her laboratory and publishes papers. She estimates she has published more than 100 papers and discovered more than 100 species.
Dr Watson was recognised earlier this week for her service to marine science and ecology when made a Member of the Order of Australia in the Queen's Birthday honours.
She was humbled but happy to just be doing what she loved.
Graduating from the School of Mines was just a beginning for Dr Watson on a life-long learning journey. Dr Watson earned her PhD in biology from Deakin University in 1991 and was last year named a distinguished alumna of Federation University. She also studied geology, not in Ballarat, but part-time in Melbourne while working.
Dr Watson founded one of the world's first marine biology and ecology consultancy firms in the 1970s. This took her on sea dives across the globe, always exploring.
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