Meet Lavender, National Future Leader of the Year

Lavender (Qingxiang) Liu is one of our exceptional Earth Observation Data Scientists using Earth Observation (EO) to solve real-world problems. Lavender has been recognised as the national Future Leader of the Year at the 2024 Geospatial Excellence Awards during Locate24. This achievement adds to her incredible track record, having earlier been awarded the Diversity and Inclusion Award and Future Leader of the Year Award in Western Australia.

Can you walk us through your journey from your time at UNSW Sydney to your current role at FrontierSI as an Earth Observation Data Scientist?

In 2014, I was lucky to get a full scholarship to support my PhD research at UNSW School of Civil and Environmental Engineering. My PhD topic was on coastal erosion mapping with multi-source remote sensing imagery, and that was the start of my journey into the geospatial field. From graduation in 2018 until early 2021, I worked as a Remote Sensing Analyst for Astron Environmental Services and gained work experience in environmental monitoring with various remote sensing data. After that, I worked as a lecturer for a year and joined FrontierSI as an Earth Observation Data Scientist in April 2022.

What motivated you to pursue a career focused on leveraging Earth Observation?

My motivation to work in this field was driven by a combination of its impact and my fascination with the technology. Earth Observation is a powerful tool to provide data-driven insights that can help shape effective environmental policies and actions to address environmental concerns. From a technology perspective, this field combines remote sensing, data science, and Artificial Intelligence. I am interested in these cutting-edge technologies and what real-world problems they can solve.

Winning the National Future Leader of the Year award at Locate24 was a significant accomplishment. How did you feel upon receiving this award, and what does it signify for you?

I felt very surprised and thrilled! I also felt grateful for the recognition, and to those who supported me along the way, including my colleagues, family, and friends.

Winning the award is both a recognition and a motivation for me. It validated the hard efforts and dedication I’ve put into my work in the geospatial area. It serves not only as a personal milestone but also reinforces my drive to continue contributing to the field.

Reflecting on your career path, could you share some of the challenges you encountered and how you overcame them?

One of the primary challenges I’ve faced in my career in Earth Observation was the complexity of the projects that required knowledge across different domains such as ecology, earth science and policymaking. I overcame this challenge by collaborating with experts in these areas, which helped me solve complex problems while enriching my domain knowledge.

Another ongoing challenge is keeping my skills and knowledge current, as the technologies in this field are rapidly evolving. I address this by engaging in explorative projects and through professional development. I am very grateful that FrontierSI provides opportunities to work on challenging but interesting projects and allows us time for professional development.

As someone committed to diversity and inclusion, how do you believe these values contribute to innovation and progress within the geospatial industry?

As a member of FrontierSI’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee, I believe diversity and inclusion are critical drivers of innovation within the geospatial industry. This field thrives on varied perspectives because the data and challenges we deal with are global and multifaceted. By fostering an inclusive environment, we ensure a variety of viewpoints and approaches are considered. This leads to more robust, creative solutions that are applicable on a broader scale.

Inclusion in the workplace ensures that everyone, regardless of their background, feels valued and empowered to contribute their best. This in turn not only improves team productivity but also attracts top talent from diverse backgrounds, enriching our collective knowledge and skill set.

In your opinion, how does effective technical leadership foster a more inclusive and diverse geospatial community?

I believe that effective technical leadership involves actively seeking input from diverse team members and encouraging a culture of open communication, collaboration and mutual respect. It helps to break down barriers and biases, which helps problem-solving and makes the geospatial industry more accessible to underrepresented groups. This in turn enriches the community with a broader range of experiences and viewpoints, which is essential for the growth and evolution of the geospatial community.

Can you share a memorable experience from your career that highlights the impact of Earth Observation data on addressing real-world challenges?

A particularly impactful experience in my career that is currently still ongoing involves environmental monitoring and impact assessment for mining activities using remote sensing data. It involves developing a suite of tools that can be used by both mining companies and regulators to inform their monitoring, surveying and reporting efforts. Compared with regular ground-based environmental surveys which can be time and labour-intensive, remote sensing data has the advantage of repeated data acquisition and continuous, broad spatial coverages. This project combines remote sensing with open-source data and standards and machine learning techniques, providing a more effective monitoring approach. The insights can also guide more targeted ground-based surveys to explore areas of potential concern.

The project exemplifies the capacity of Earth Observation in the mining and resources sector and highlights the power of the techniques to address real-world challenges. I am eager to see the long-term impact of our efforts as we continue to deliver the project.

Looking ahead, what are your thoughts on the future of Earth Observation technology and its role in addressing global issues?

I believe Earth Observation is promising and pivotal in helping address global challenges such as climate change, disaster response, and sustainable development. With rapid advancements in satellite technology and other remote sensing platforms such as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), data volume, frequency and resolutions (e.g. spatial and spectral) are increasing. This will allow more timely monitoring of changes and emergencies, as well as more accurate modelling and predictions with advances in data analytics. That would help globally in planning, disaster response and policy/decision-making. Meanwhile, the increased openness of data and tools will enable broader users to access and utilise this data, helping build capacities to address global issues for the whole community globally.

Could you share insights into the mentorship you’ve received and how it has influenced your career trajectory?

Yes, mentorship has been a crucial part of my career. Early in my career trajectory, my mentors were my PhD supervisors Prof. John Trinder and Prof. Ian Turner, who are experts in two different areas. Two of the key insights from their mentorship were the importance of doing application/problem-driven research and multidisciplinary collaboration.

My other mentor Dr. Jasmine Muir, who was my team leader both when I was at Astron and when I first joined FrontierSI, has played an important role in my career development. She has impacted me through her inclusive leadership, encouragement and trust.

I have also identified a lot of people at FrontierSI who are providing mentorship to me. My manager Fang has guided me on the importance of being proactive and open-minded and supported me to grow my leadership skills. I’m also receiving mentorship from my colleagues for different aspects of work. For example, from Roshni and Caitlin, I’ve learnt to be more considerate, caring and supporting other people at the workplace. All these insights are so important to shape my career towards being an inclusive and effective future technical leader.

Finally, what advice would you offer to aspiring Earth Observation scientists and future leaders in the geospatial field?

While I don’t normally provide advice to people without understanding their specific needs, I think in general staying adaptable and continuously updating skills are important to remaining effective in the field, as the field is evolving with advancements in technology. This is also one aspect that I am keeping in my career development.

Mentally I do encourage people to recognise the value of their work and the impact they are making. Carrying this responsibility with passion and commitment helps to find great fulfilment in your contributions to the geospatial field.

About FrontierSI

At FrontierSI, we harness the power of collaboration and our extensive networks to build top-tier teams dedicated to solving significant problems. As a leading social enterprise, we focus our deep spatial expertise on developing and implementing solutions to meet challenges across multiple sectors. We help bring innovative ideas through to real-world products and services with a focus on creating positive impact.

Contact us here or connect directly with FrontierSI’s Chief Business Officer, Paula Fiévez.

Image source: Geospatial Council of Australia