Transcript - International Day of Women and Girls in Science Part 1

Duration 26 min

Interviewer: Hello to our panelists from across Australia and to teachers and students around new South Wales. As we come together to celebrate the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. We begin this webinar by acknowledging that I'm hosting and recording this webinar from the lands of the Wiradjuri people. I also acknowledge the traditional custodians of the various lands on which you all work and attend school each day and pay respect to Elders past, present and emerging. And extend that respect to other Aboriginal people joining us today. So what is the International Day of Women and Girls in Science? In 2015, the United Nations recognized that a significant gender gap has persisted throughout the years in all levels of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics the STEM disciplines all over the world. Even though women have made tremendous progress towards increasing their participation in higher education they are still underrepresented in these fields. Gender equality has always been a core issue for the United Nations. It established the day to recognize the critical role women and girls play in science and technology communities. Today, we celebrate the International Day of Women and Girls in Science by bringing together five superstars of STEM, brilliant young women and experts in their field. They have been recognized by Science and Technology Australia. Australia's peak body in science and technology and who represent more than 80,000 scientists and technologists. Introducing our panel today, we have Marissa Betts, a paleontologist and geologist at the University of New England. Pearl Ng, the Digital Implementation Manager at Aurecon. Dwan Price, an asthma researcher from Deakin University. Bianca Shepherd, engineer and support workshop manager at ANSTO. And finally Renee Wootton, an aerospace engineer at CAE. I'll begin by asking each of our panelists to provide an overview of their current role in science. Marissa, can I ask you to answer that question first?

I'm a paleontologist. I work at the University of New England in Armidale and my role is as a researcher. So I get to study rocks and fossils. Actually, my background is as a geologist so I really love the stories that rocks can tell us about the planet and the deep past. And then of course also how fossils can tell us about life in the deep past and how it's evolved. I'm also a lecturer and a teacher. So I run classes here for university students who are studying geology and paleontology. At the moment, this is all online, of course but in normal times we would have face to face lectures and classes and sometimes we get to go to the field so that students can have hands-on experiences studying and collecting fossils themselves.

Interviewer: Thank you, Marissa. Pearl, what does a digital implementation manager do?

So my current role involves implementing new technologies for engineers in the building and construction industry. So technology to me is a form of applied science. And one of the things that I do almost on a day-to-day basis is to guide engineers on how to apply these technologies to make their work easier and also to be more effective.

Interviewer: Great, thank you for that Pearl. Dwan, what does your work as an asthma researcher involve?

Thanks Alexa, I'm a molecular biologist who researches asthma specifically I research the elegance that are present in the air that trigger thunderstorm asthma. because I get to look at the things that no one else can see in the air using lots of microscopes. And I also teach at Deakin University which is down in Melbourne.

Interviewer: Thank you Dwan, thunderstorm asthma certainly has caused some problems in Victoria, I'm well aware of that. Renee, an aerospace engineer. It sounds amazing. Can you tell us what this involves?

Hi everyone, great to be here today. I'm currently a project engineer managing the technical milestones of an avionics upgrade on Australian military aircraft on the C-130J. It's earned and manufactured by Lockheed Martin the C-130J Super Hercules and is a four engine turboprop military transport aircraft. And in my role I apply systems engineering, design principles, and process in order to support global training capabilities and leading edge simulation technology for the Australian military. These training devices are designed to train 16 pilots, eight load masters and up to 100 maintenance crew each year.

Interviewer: Bianca, I can imagine there's a wide variety of tasks in managing a workshop at ANSTO. Can you tell us what you do?

Excellent, thanks Alexa. My role is a little different where engineering and physics form part of the basis of the work that I do knowing how things fit together and operate and the forces that are acting on certain systems or structures. Understanding these pre-empting potential consequences and identifying preventative measures. This is the basis of my work around the engineering and science space at present. Like you said, I oversee a manufacturing workshop that focuses on nuclear critical materials manufacturing here at ANSTO. Aspects of what I do or oversee in the workshop, planning, machining, fabrication and also site installation works. Every day is different and it presents me and my team with new challenges all the time knowing that we're making a real difference in the manufacturer and supply of nuclear medicine for Australians is a really awesome feeling.

Interviewer: What an amazing diversity of work that you're all involved in? Since our audience today are girls and young women in the New South Wales system. Pearl, can you tell us how did your study of science at school influenced by your career pathway?

Sure, I believe that my interest in science came through my lessons and experiences when I was in school. So when I was in high school, I participated in a robotics competition and in that competition itself my friends and I used our math and science skills to develop a robot. And used that robot to solve a couple of challenges. And I think from that competition I realized that a combination of science knowledge and hands-on experience gives me the knowledge or the power to solve complicated problems. And that has inspired me to pursue my studies in engineering.

Thank you, Pearl. There's always lots of science and engineering competitions available to students and we certainly encourage them to become involved in those.

Interviewer: Dwan, how did your school inspire your career pathway?

Thanks, Alexa, I'd probably owe it to having a very enthusiastic year 11 and 12 biology teacher. I think it was her enthusiasm that was quite infectious that helped me also become more interested in biology. I naturally was always really fascinated with the natural world and especially the human body. And the more I learned about the human body the more I became interested and really obsessed by pathogens and how they cause disease. So largely this, I had a fairly frugal upbringing so I spent a lot of time outside and climbing trees and say this led to growing lots of bugs and germs in makeshift, petri dishes and lots of little bug boxes and things like that. So I think it was yeah, high school, enthusiastic biology teacher and lots of time outdoors.

Interviewer: Yes, you can't beat the great outdoors, can you? Bianca, how did school inspire your career pathway?

Thank you Alexa. In my senior years in high school I loved understanding the physical world and its interactions. I found that the science subjects that I studied aligned well together and realized that this basis gave me a number of options that I could pursue when I finished year 12. When I completed my HSC I chose to undertake a cadetship where I could work full-time and study part-time. I also did have options to go to university as well. However, the opportunity to embark on a structured development program, where I could apply what I learned on the job was something that I really jumped at. Once I started working, I understood the importance of the science subjects that I studied in my HSC. I enjoyed what I did and never regretted my decision. My path was different to that of my close friends at the time, but I loved every minute of it. I used to say that I was so lucky to work in an environment where I could see and do things that not many girls had the opportunity to do. I felt privileged. I knew to make the most of it. I was fortunate in the fact as well that I had a really supportive family to assist me in that process.

Interviewer: Fabulous, thank you for that Bianca. Renee, how did your study of science at school affect your career pathway?

So, for me I was always really interested in mathematics and science-based subjects in school and I found it rather hard to remain motivated in subjects like English. So I gravitated towards my interests in chemistry, math and environmental science. And I worked really hard to understand that content. So I enjoyed the challenge of studying the subjects and I had a genuine interest in the content. So I took on additional tuition to maximize my understanding of potential to achieve higher marks, to ensure that I had options at the end of my HSC. So my choice to progress into engineering was actually guided mostly by my interest and participation in a youth group outside of school called Australian Air Force Cadets. I learnt about aviation through this program and it really set me on a path of endless motivation and passion to learn more about this industry. And that passion still serves me today and directs me in the career decisions that I make today.

Interviewer: Lovely, thank you Renee. So it's not just school it's all those other interests that you can get involved in outside of school that can help you with your career pathway. Marissa, I believe you were more interested in other areas at school.

Yes, I was actually. I did very little science at school. The science subjects that I did do were quite basic. I took a bit of biology and I enjoyed it, but my focus really at school was on creative subjects like visual art and design. And I did photography as well. There was, I remember a very cool overlap where in one of my science classes, we had to develop our own film in a dark room. And so there was this very cool melding of a creative thing like photography, taking photos with science. So we had to learn about the chemicals used to develop film and how they worked. But when I left school, I studied visual art at university for a short time, but I realized that that wasn't really for me. So I dropped out and I went traveling overseas for a couple of years and while I was traveling I fell in love with museums, natural history museums and that's what helped me decide to study science when I came back to Australia.

Interviewer: So having been inspired to study at school whether you were inspired to go straight into science or whether you took a little time off did you have a clear pathway in mind when you finished school or did it involve with evolve with twists and turns? Dwan was medical science, always a goal for you?

An interesting question, Alexa. So originally I had planned to study medicine largely because my interest in human disease, as I said before and also the desire to improve human health. But medicine was probably simply my choice because I actually didn't know what else existed that could combine my interests with a career. And this was probably because I was from a country town with no connections or mentors that could guide me academically or career wise with that respect at the time. And it probably wasn't until I started university that the whole world of science opened up for me and with it, all of the amazing branches that, you know that are centered on understanding human health and disease. So for example, I didn't know immunology existed I didn't know microbiology was a brand of science and all cellular biology, for example. And so I naturally found myself exploring and enjoying all of these different areas. And as a consequence, my career pathway gradually evolved and changed and did take turns that I would never have expected when I was younger. And all of that led to where I am today.

Interviewer: Great, thank you so much. Bianca, did you have a workshop manager in mind when you left school?

Thanks Alexa. No I definitely didn't have a workshop manager in mind. To be honest I really didn't know where I wanted to go. My career has kind of developed over the years and has taken a variety of courses. What I did was I did follow advice from mentors and others that I looked up to at the time. It hasn't always centered around the engineering and science fields though. However, I always gravitated towards that area. So once I completed my engineering, I moved to a training and development type role undertaking university studies at the same time, it was in that role that I was able to work at various educational institutions in a teaching capacity. I moved into other industries as well such as mining and construction. However, I always had that special interest in the science and engineering field. So always requested to assist the technical departments or you know, the tech support team and things like that. So I always gravitated towards that area or these fields. So partway through my career I did set some definite goals and this would be the only defined part. And before I started a family I was going to finish my university. I wanted to work my career up into a management area and I also wanted to travel. So I ended up doing all those things and then sort of made that decision. But I suppose that was the only structured part to my career sort of role or journey so far.

Interviewer: Great, thank you, Bianca. Renee, how did you arrive at being an aerospace engineer?

As you mentioned through various twists and turns. So I had a clear plan for my studies when I got to the end of my HSC. I decided quite later on that I wanted to be an aerospace engineer but I was still pretty anxious to think about how that might evolve or where my career might lead by making that decision. I had no idea what to expect. So I started in engineering and as an intern, and then moved into various other general roles throughout my career from business development managers at a tech startup through to Quantas loyalty rewards as a financial analyst and more recently have ended back up in engineering as a project engineer. So I think it's safe to say my career has been guided by my interests and just opportunities that have arisen over time.

Interviewer: Right, so yes certainly some twists and turns along the way. Marissa, how did you arrive at being a palaeontologist?

Well, my pathway has definitely been the twisty turny kind because before I went to uni I had done mostly creative subjects. I didn't really have a very strong science background but I was just super interested and so keen. And I really threw myself into it and loved it. But even at uni, I chopped and changed a bit. So I started out doing some biology and some museum studies and then I did a few geology subjects and realized that I just love rocks. So I completely changed my degree to geology. And then towards the end of that, I took some paleo and that really was when I felt like I'd found my home. So it just goes to show that, you know your path can have heaps of twists and turns and you know, you can't predict where you'll end up. So yeah, just keep doing what you love and what excites you. And like Renee said, take up the opportunities as they come along.

Interviewer: So finally, Pearl what did your pathway to digital implementation manager be?

Yeah I guess I'm very similar to the rest of the panel speakers that definitely a lot of twists and turns throughout my career journey. I've always wanted to be an accountant when I was a kid until I participated in the robotics competition where I started to plan my career path in engineering. So I started to plan my career in such a way that I did a bachelor and a master's in chemical engineering. But towards the end of my chemical engineering industry project I got exposed to computational fluid dynamics and that was when I learned a lot about technology about programming and so on. I then got an opportunity to work as a technology analyst. And so I slowly built up my career in the technology and more towards the digital roles and slowly into management consulting and now managing technology projects. So I guess while the pathway is a little bit wavy I feel like the STEM skills are indispensable in such a way that they are transferable from one extreme to another. So I thought that was a pretty interesting journey.

Interviewer: Great, thank you so much. So all of you it's really been clear that while it's good to have some goals and some plans you need to be flexible by being open to the myriad of possibilities that present themselves to you and to be brave taking professional risks and very prepared to back yourself in whatever challenge you take on. Turning to the present what excites you most about being a scientist? Bianca, when I've taken students to ANSTO I thought it would be such an exciting place to work. What excites you about your work?

Thanks, Alexa. What excites me now is the same as when I was at school. I'd love learning and understanding how things work and interact. I've got a little bit more knowledge now. However, I still challenge my assumptions and I'm always open to learning. The thing with science is that it's ever evolving apart from the basic concepts the field advances all the time to include new technologies, new materials that didn't exist or were in their infancy 30 years ago when I started. This is what's what I find is fun about science and it's always changing, even though I'm not directly involved in the scientific research here at ANSTO I'm lucky to work in an area where others do. Regularly we hear about new insights and developments into new materials, processes, or findings. Just this week, there was an article on our internet about phone on engineering for clean energy and space applications. So that sparked an interest of course. So last night I was on the internet, you know I've never heard that term before. So I was on the internet Googling what phone on engineering is about, and the outcomes of this research may have an impact on the development of future clean energy, which that's awesome. And to hear that it's being done here in ANSTO's even better. So there's a lot more work. This is in its infancy as well but that's what I find is exciting and what I, you know, it gets me up every day and why I come to work.

Interviewer: Renee aerospace is such a cutting edge industry. There must be plenty of excitement there.

Yes, you're certainly right about that through innovation and the advancement of technology, we're seeing a lot of changes in the aviation industry from improving maintenance practices and improved on-time performance of aircraft, moving around to major ports around the world, developing algorithms to optimize flight routes, reducing fuel burn in daily operations, reducing landfill in large passenger jets and more recently just seeing the commercialization of aviation. So, you know, using helicopter's almost like taxis. Seeing the movement of helicopters around cities, is almost like a taxi with movements up to a thousand landings a day. So there's a lot of exciting, you know, technology advancements in the renewable section as well particularly with electricity and batteries now moving into this realm. So it's certainly an interesting area and a fast paced area which is why I'm so excited to be in this particular industry.

Interviewer: How fabulous Renee for you. Yes the sort of getting a helicopter as a taxi is an interesting concept for those of us who don't live in Sydney or Melbourne. Marissa, can you please tell us the exciting work that palaeontologists can be involved in?

Well, I really love my job so it's hard to nail down just one particular thing that's like the most exciting. But I think if I had to choose a thing it would be actually the community, the whole community. So, I mean, my particular research focuses on a period of time called the Cambrian about 500 million years ago when all the major groups of animals evolved. And I love the idea that all Cambrian palaeontologists are just trying to do this huge puzzle together, you know with all of our different areas of expertise, knowledge of different rock deposits, having a geology background, biology background we're all just trying to add our pieces to the Cambrian puzzle and put it all together. So working together as a scientific community to make those big discoveries is tremendously exciting. And the paleo community seems to be a very supportive and positive one. So that really helps as well.

Interviewer: Yes, it certainly shows that science is a collaborative discipline where people need to work together and share their ideas and knowledge. Pearl, I imagine there are plenty of technical challenges that you face in your role.

Yeah, totally. So I think science and technology they are very creative fields. Things are always changing, there's always new discovery like what Bianca mentioned earlier. So I guess that actually pushed me to always keep myself updated with new things, keep learning. And I think especially with the technology field technologies can be applied in almost every industry and seeing how that technology concepts being applied in real world I thought that was a really fascinating process. And there are a lot of things out there that I feel, I don't know. So the process of discovering what I don't know and learning new stuff as well. So it's me, my personality and I like that journey a lot.

Interviewer: Yes, it's always great to find something new. Dwan working to make a difference to people's health must be so exciting.

Absolutely, I think if I had to think about what excites me I would probably say that I'm still a kid that just hasn't grown out of inventing things, you know, strange contraptions or just discovering something new for the first time. And so for me, it's about you know, that observation that you might notice down the microscope a new elegant that you find in the air that is incredibly exciting because it means not only is it new, but then I get to figure out how that relates to the bigger picture. So for example, it wasn't that long ago that we found a fungal spool that appeared to trigger allergies and it came out just after a storm, but you know and in certain weather conditions. And trying to figure out exactly how it came into the air at that point and how it relates to human health and how it might contribute to thunderstorm asthma. I find that really, really interesting. So I think I've never grown out of just enjoying puzzles.

Interviewer: Wonderful, there's certainly so many new things to discover in science and it's a never ending quest to find out more stuff which would excite us all.

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