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7 Questions on Leadership with Dr Emma Camp

Name: Dr. Emma Camp

Title: Future Reefs Team Leader

Organisation: University of Technology Sydney

Dr. Emma Camp is an award-winning and internationally renowned corals expert who is passionate both about the protection of coral reefs, and the involvement of women and girls in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Emma is the Team Leader of the Future Reefs Program within the Climate Change Cluster at the University of Technology Sydney.

Her research focuses on the physiology, ecology and biogeochemistry of coral reefs, and she was a co-founder of the Coral Nurture Program, a new approach for caring for the Great Barrier Reef initiated by a partnership between tourism and science. Part of her research involves learning more about highly tolerant or “super corals” in the hope of helping coral reefs that are in danger.

Since 2013, Emma has been shortlisted for over 30 awards, and has received the 2023 WINGS Women of Discovery Award; 2021 Australian Museum Eureka Prize for Outstanding Early Career Researcher; was named a Next Generation Leader by Time Magazine (2020); a L’Oréal-UNESCO for Women in Science Fellow (2020), a Max Day Award from the Australian Academy of Science (2019), a ROLEX Associate Laurate (2019) and a Tall Poppy Science Award from the Australian Institute of Policy & Science (2019).

In 2018, she was named a Young Leader for the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, and in 2020 she was a STEM Women’s Game Changer by the Australian Academy of Science. She is also a National Geographic Explorer and wants to engage society with research so that more people can become part of the solutions required to protect the planet.

Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!

I hope Emma's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!


Jonno White

1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?

For me the most challenging aspect of being a leader has been managing my own energy levels while giving energy to support my team. In my role I often need to problem solve and listen to struggles any team members are having. I have an open-door policy and want that connection with my team.

However, I found early on in my leadership journey that this can very quickly drain your emotional and mental buckets. I found some great wisdom from speaking with my dad who was also in several senior leadership positions. He said to me, “imagine everyone in your team comes into your office with a problem, and that problem is a teddy bear. They leave the teddy bear in your office and leave feeling much better. Initially this isn’t a problem for you because its just a few teddy bears, but if everyone keeps doing this, eventually your office is full of teddy bears, and you can’t move/suffocate.

Instead of letting everyone leave their teddy bears, you need to empower your team to leave with their teddy bear (maybe even another), feeling happy or at least secure/confident that they can take care of their problems (their teddy bear).” This really resonated with me, and led me to work on strategies I can use to help my team feel empowered to help resolve their own problems and to come with potential solutions which we can work through together.

2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?

This is an interesting question as I see leadership as a journey, and often we are leaders in different aspects of our life at different times. As an example, I played professional basketball and was captain of several different teams, including the Great Britain Under 21’s team. This required me to be a leader.

I have stepped into a leadership role for my family when they have needed it. At the start of this year was when I moved into my most recent professional leadership role, as the Team Leader for the Future Reefs Research Group. I have drawn on all the opportunities through my life where I have been able to act as a leader, and thus I do believe leadership is a journey rather than a destination.

3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?

Monday, Wednesday, and Fridays I get up at 4.30 am to go to a functional gym class 5-6 am. I then head home, shower, get ready for work, hopefully in time before my toddler (3 years old) wakes up. On Tuesdays and Fridays my day will start around 6 am. I will be in the office most days, but one day of the week I will likely work from home.

The other four days, I share the responsibility with my husband of dropping my son to daycare (which is at my work), and then head into the office. I try to allocate days to certain activities, so Mondays are my meeting days, Tuesdays are my editing days to provide feedback to students and staff on their work, Wednesday and Thursdays hybrid days (lab work, data analysis other meetings), and Fridays are my deep workdays where I try to get any academic papers or grants written.

I finish work between 4.30-5.00 pm depending on the day, and will head home to spend time with my family and take my son to any of his recreational activities. I work with international collaborators so I will schedule any international meetings after 8 pm so my son is generally asleep, and I am not missing out on this time with him.

Weekends are family time and I try to protect this as much as possible. On a Sunday my husband and I will plan the following week to account for any important events, appointments etc that we need to manage.

4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?

To not assume you know why a staff member has or hasn’t done something. I assumed a team member hadn’t done something for a certain reason, but in talking to that team member learned it wasn’t that they didn’t want to do it, but they actually didn’t know how. It was a good reminder to not make assumptions!!

5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?

Legacy by James Kerr. It provides 15 leadership lessons from the All Blacks and it really resonated with me as I believe sports provides incredible life lessons and has definitely supported my leadership. One of the big take home points I got from the book was how to build a culture that team members feel connected to and want to be associated with. Also, how no single person can be bigger than the team. I highly recommend it!

6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?

I will refer to a quote from Legacy:

Mā te rongo, ka mōhio;

Mā te mōhio, ka mārama;

Mā te mārama, ka mātau

Mā te mātau, ka ora.

From listening, comes knowledge;

From knowledge comes understanding;

From understanding comes wisdom;

From wisdom comes well-being.

7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?

It would have to be hearing from a team member that my honesty about challenges and realities of juggling a leadership role with a young family has inspired them and helped them see this is possible, when often it is considered at odds in the scientific world.

It was meaningful to me, because I thought my team seeing me stepping out a meeting to take a call from daycare, or having to move meetings as my son was sick, or breastfeeding between dives while out on fieldwork when my son was younger would be viewed by others as a weakness; that I wasn’t committed enough. But this hasn’t been the reality and it reminds me that to be a good leader, being authentic is crucial.

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