Transcript International Day of Women and Girls in Science Part 2

Duration: 33 minutes

Interviewer: The Secretary-General of the United Nations in his message for the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, acknowledges that science is a collaborative discipline and yet scientists being held back by the gender gap. The executive director of UN Women recognizes that the business community including those in the STEM sectors has a stake in and a responsibility for gender equality and women's empowerment in the workplace, marketplace and community. So what challenges related to being a woman in science have you faced and how have you addressed these? Renee, you are certainly in what has been regarded as a non-traditional role for women. How have you managed any challenges related to this?

Great question, Alexa. So for me, under-representation of females in my industry has been the largest issue that I've faced and continue to face. So some of the things that I've done to contribute to the improvement of those statistics, include leading and supporting numerous initiatives. So some of those include project managing and volunteering with an organization called the Power of Engineering where we aim to inspire young people to consider a diverse and creative career in the profession of engineering. And we really pay a particular focus on females in regional locations as well as indigenous students. So I support those programs by providing talks and facilitating discussion around my career. And the opportunity is created as a result of studying engineering. I've also invited students into my workplace. So I was previously working for QANTAS, so I'd have students come in and we'd do a full day tour of the A380 aircraft, which has always an incredible insight into aviation engineering and just how profound it can be. And finally, I've traveled around to a lot of regional and metropolitan areas. So places such as Bourke, Temora, Redfern, Kirrawee and Burke Community Centers to run workshops, speak and participate in engineering workshops for the day. So by doing this work, you have a profound impact on people and inspire them at such a young age and that's where it really counts.

Interviewer: Fantastic Renee, Marissa the traditional paleontologist and geologists particularly those portrayed in the media have been men, have you had to face issues related to being a woman?

Well, yeah, there are some small things like when I do field work, I do a lot of remote field work and often I'm the only woman in a group of 10 or 11 blokes. And when the field crews decides to stop for a bathroom break, they can choose a spot with very little shrubbery for privacy and that is kind of funny and I do see the funny side of that. When you think about it so it's a function of both a lack of awareness of the basic requirements for women in the field but it also comes from a place of, well, she's just one of the team and they haven't really thought to give me special treatment which I actually appreciate very much. So I don't wanna be treated with kid gloves, I'm a very capable field geologist, and if people started to treat me like a delicate flower it would really annoy me, I think. But more broadly I think that a lack of awareness about the issues for women in STEM persists with a lot of my male colleagues and it's just that they're not issues that they have to face themselves and so they have no reason to think about them. And there's also a sense of, I'm a good guy I don't discriminate against women so my work here is done. Or the problems for women in STEM are problems for women to solve, which is quite frustrating. So it's just made me work harder to be visible in my role hence my application to be a Superstar of STEM and keep highlighting these issues and just to keep talking about them.

Interviewer: Fantastic, I'm just having visions of you out in the field with the lack of shrubbery you posing . Okay, so Pearl while women are portrayed in the workplace as being computer operators, being a manager is not such a common portrayal. Have you had to face gender related issues?

There are definitely some hurdles and challenges that I've faced throughout my career. And I think a lot of times these challenges happen because I am a little bit not confident with myself, especially when I am surrounded with more senior executives. And I think to overcome this challenge or these challenges what I usually do is I'll take a step back and ask myself instead of being afraid, I'll ask myself questions like, what are the value that I can bring to the table and how can I contribute to make the discussion more valuable and fruitful to everyone in the meeting. So I guess that is one approach. And another thing that I will do is also to share my feelings with other people, so having a support network. So sometimes when I share that I am not confident I don't know how to express myself, I will hear similar feedback or comments and sometimes people will give me really good advice on how to overcome these challenges. So by sharing it with many other people, it makes me feel that I am not alone there are also people who face the same issues and at the same time I receive advice on how to make myself better. So I think this is one of the approach that I have been taking to overcome some of these challenges that I've faced as a female in the tech industry.

Interviewer: Yeah, so Pearl say it's really about having that confidence in yourself and being inclusive of everybody in the room. Dwan, while medical science may seem to have a balance of genders, research funding is often very competitive. Have you had gender issues to contend with?

Thanks Alexa, yes, we do often say that male professors often get the lion's share of medical research funding. So that can be quite difficult especially when funding really dictates your ability to do a job or just be employed in general. And sometimes that can really affect you personally and make you feel like perhaps you don't make the cut or you're not up to scratch for example. So sometimes I like to take a step back and try and have a bit more confidence in my abilities. So there's this thing called imposter syndrome, I'm sure all of the other women here are very aware of it. And it's this scenario where you feel like an absolute fraud and at any moment you could be just found out and exposed to be a fake or an imposter. And I found that this can really hinder my ability to put myself out there in situations. And sometimes it can really hold you back. So what I like to do is sometimes I take a step back and I might address this by rereading some of my published research that I've done. And sometimes it makes me think, oh, I am smart, what I wrote that. And so that can really help as well as sometimes I might update my resume so that I can kind of take note of the successes that I've had to try and own my successes and my abilities. And this is one of the things that I love doing with my female scientist peers, when I can tell that they are also feeling like they're not achieving or running a faster race compared to our male colleagues, I get them to try and try these solutions that helps them realize that actually they're brilliant at what they do and they deserve to be in this field and this space.

Interviewer: Thank you, Dwan, lots of strategies there for dealing with some gender related issues and giving confidence to people. Bianca, managing a workshop I imagine has provided some gender related challenges. How have you managed these?

Thanks, Alexa, I suppose the greatest challenge I've faced I suppose over my career is being listened to. It's easy for what I say to be played down or discounted. The best way I've found to overcome this and other factors was to be honest with how you present the data. I generally like to work with facts and figures and let the data speak for itself that way it takes the focus off of me being short and a girl. On another point though, I would recommend also finding a mentor or a supporter to bounce ideas off. If you can touch base with that person and collaborate your ideas and thoughts with that then allows you to develop your knowledge base and some strategies or solutions, I've done that over the years. It's amazing the value that a key mentor has to a person's career progression. I've had a number of mentors over the years and generally these are successful people in and around the organizations I've worked in. Not always have they been women, but they've always just been a good person that I can touch base with, throw some ideas, bounce ideas off, and they've been supportive of me and my progress. So that would be my recommendation.

Interviewer: Fantastic, thank you, Bianca. So from what you've all said, maintaining your networks, having a mentor, being professional and being the very best you can be at what your job is, is a way of coping with or managing the gender situation and changing the gender stereotypes that exist in some industries. Being recognized as a Superstar of STEM acknowledges that you have all been incredibly successful in your careers. What have been the highlights of your professional career? Marissa would you like to go first this time?

Thanks, Alexa, I've been really lucky to have led awesome teams of scientists to solve some big problems on how we date and correlate Cambrian rocks in Australia. And that's work that's been quite readily incorporated into our understanding of the Cambrian in South Australia and it's work that I'm really, really proud of. I've also named several species of Cambrian fossils, which is very fun, and it's very cool knowing that those names that I've given those fossils will be sticking around in the literature forever. And other highlights are all the awesome field work and the traveling that I get to do as part of my work. So I've been to lots of really beautiful and remote places that not a lot of people get to go. And that's given me the opportunity to learn about culture and language and food on top of all of the cool geology and paleo stuff. And I thought that was really wonderful.

Interviewer: Wonderful Marissa, it sounds like you've achieved a lot and gone to some fabulous places. Pearl what have been the highlights of your career?

One of the highlights of my career is completing or delivering a software system for a water utility client. So for that project, my team and I developed this technology or this tool that engineers will use in their daily operation and maintenance work. That was a pretty large scale project. And not only that with that technology the engineers will be exposed to a safer and less riskier work environment. So I thought that gave me a sense of achievement because I feel like I'm making a positive difference in terms of making their work easier and also making sure that they are working in a safer environment. And I think each time I pass by the water utility I see the signage, I can proudly say that I'm part of this project, yeah.

Interviewer: Fabulous, that sounds wonderful. Dwan, what have been the highlights of your career?

Thanks, Alexa, if I had to think about it, it would probably be putting myself into the most terrifying situations and knowing that I'll come out alive and unscathed. What I mean is presenting my research at international conferences in front of really really experienced and old professors that had very judgemental looks on their faces and to realize that actually they really enjoyed my talk and my research and wanted to know more about it. So that helps me really feel like I fit in the field and belong. I've had the opportunity to share some of my ideas at the Shine Dome in Canberra that was really exciting and I really love their architecture, it's just beautiful. I participated in FameLab which is an international science communication competition in front of hundreds of people on a gigantic stage, and that was terrifying, but really, really exciting and so I love to know that I can challenge myself in those ways. Present what I love, present my research and the cool things that I find and know that I can challenge myself and still come out relatively unscathed. It helps me grow as a person and be stronger.

Interviewer: Fantastic, and it's great to say that what you see as your achievements has been about the presentation not specifically about the science itself. So whilst you're presenting your science it's about challenging yourself, so a challenge is always great. Bianca, what have been the highlights of your career?

Thanks, Alexa, I suppose the highlights of my career has been making a difference in the education and the development of others. So other employees starting out in their careers or progressing in their careers. Having worked in a number of industries I have been able to work closely with new employees within most of my roles, and watching them face their challenges at time and working with them to overcome these and seeing them succeed at the end of the day I would say would be my career highlights. I have won awards for past training programs and education programs that I've developed and been recognized for some project outcome work. However, it pales in comparison to actually working with new employees and seeing their growth and development and success over time.

Interviewer: Thank you, Bianca. This ties back to some of the things various ones that we mentioned earlier about science being a collaborative different discipline and working with other people and that's what we get so much out of it when we work in science. Renee, can you tell us about the highlights of your career?

Certainly, so for me, the highlights have been delivering and leading Australian aviation projects over the past nine years with incredibly inspiring engineers and scientists along the way. I have also managed to inspire thousands of students across Australia to consider a career in engineering, which is a really fulfilling feeling and an aspect of my career that I'm really proud of. Along with pulling off projects that are so sizable or just so outside of the realm of what I thought I was capable of achieving at the time. So some of those are flying to London and working with two major airlines to benchmark best practice engine maintenance. So bringing back amazing findings that have then unlocked a lot of savings and optimizations within the airlines over here. Working on a trial with the Environmental Protection Agency and a number of other stakeholders to reverse engineer a process to help airlines dispose off their organic waste. And with great success in the trial then seeing that become a commercialized process, so reducing our landfill. And then working full time and studying full time over the past two and a half years to become a commercial pilot from which I graduated last year. It was always a lifelong dream of mine to become a pilot, so to be able to have ticked that box off in my life at such an early age was not only completely unexpected but absolutely fulfilling. So, and quite like Bianca, I'm surprising myself with a few awards. In 2018, I was recognized by the governor of New South Wales as being one of the top 30 indigenous leaders of New South Wales because of my work in the nonprofit space. So, kicking goals I just never expected or thought I'd be able to achieve in my life.

Interviewer: Amazing Renee, thank you so much. You certainly have achieved a lot. And what fabulous achievements you've all attained, it's really easy to see why you've all been recognized as superstars. Turning to the future, what are your career goals currently and how do you plan to achieve those? Pearl where do you see yourself going in the digital technology industry?

Yeah, so my career goal is to be a thought leader or a knowledge leader in the digital engineering space. So right now, while I'm working as an implementation manager, I still keep myself up to date with all this new knowledge or new technology stuff coming up. I'm also pursuing my PhD at the same time, so it's a continuous learning process. And one of the things that I always do is to surround myself with a good team of people, because I believe that everyone of us here have a unique set of knowledge and skills and experience. So by talking with other people, I'm able to exchange ideas, learn from them and at the same time expand my own knowledge database. So that will make me one step closer in becoming a thought leader or subject matter expert in digital engineering.

Interviewer: Great, thank you, Pearl all the very best. Dwan, which way for you now?

Thanks Alexa, so I've really only just recently switched not fields exactly, but switched topics. So prior to my asthma research I actually researched food elegance. So I'm still under the allergy umbrella and I found that peanut allergens make your gut slightly leaky, and that really contributes to why peanuts in particular are very potent allergens. And then after that, I moved into the asthma research which I'm working on now. And so what I'm specifically looking at is I am trying to, which I will, build a sensor for the elegance that are in the air that are released during thunderstorm asthma. So my idea is essentially that it will work a bit like a smoke detector but for allergens that are released spontaneously during certain thunderstorms. So I am slightly moving from less molecular biology and going into a bit more electrochemistry, which is great, because it's challenging me and helping me learn new topics. And at the same time I'm working on solving a big problem which is something that I'm, you know, that's my main goal, I really do like to contribute to bigger pictures.

Interviewer: Thank you, Dwan. Yes, saving yourself challenges as Pearl suggested is certainly a great way to go. Bianca, what are your career goals?

Thanks, Alexa, my career goals now is to make a transformative change here at ANSTO within the workshop space on the manufacturing side. With others in our business, sorry, where others in our business say the work that we do is leading edge and first class and also with the aim of gender equality across all areas in my team. So this change management process is gonna take a little bit of time to develop and refine. But I say starting with the systems and processes along with our behavioral shift at the case to making this a success or making this change a success. Also the good thing I've got in my favor is that I've got a small but a high performing team, they're the backbone to making what we do work and they know that the work that we do will benefit the majority of Australians some point in their life in the nuclear medicine space. So this is my goal and our sort of collaborative goal moving forward.

Interviewer: Thanks Bianca, so your goals are very much around your team and where you're taking them and the role that they play and how they work together. Renee, where do you see yourself going as an aerospace engineer?

So my goals include finishing my studies to become a qualified airline pilot. And in the future I've kinda set my sights on entering the space sector. I've always really looked up to Gwynne Shotwell an American business woman and engineer, and she's the President and Chief Operating Officer of SpaceX. So I'd love to move into the SpaceX, sorry, the space sector soon and be a part of the growth of the Australian Space Agency.

Interviewer: Wow, I'm sure we're gonna be saying a lot of you in the future, Pearl. Oh, start again, well, I'm sure we gonna be seeing a lot of you in the future. Marissa, what are your career goals?

Well, I'm part of a recently launched geoscientific group that we've just started up here at UNE, called Lethal Lab UNE, we abbreviate it to LUNE. And the idea with LUNE is that we are a diverse bunch of geo-scientists, we've got a paleo, a geo, and a geochronologist and we all get our heads together to collaborate and answer cool questions up and down the geological timescale. And I'm keen to really build this up with mentoring students. So I'm really kind of keen to bring students in who are excited to answer these sorts of cool questions. I actually have a couple of students starting with me this year, they both happen to be girls, and I'm super pumped to get their projects rolling. And more generally, I really love teaching. So I'd love to build the Paleoscience Research Center here at UNE which is actually now one of the biggest and diverse paleo research groups in Australia into the place to come and study paleo particularly as an undergraduate. And this isn't necessarily about producing a whole bunch of paleontologists because that's not necessarily for everyone, but it's a great way to teach people about Earth history and their place in it and to give people fundamental scientific literacy skills that will serve them in other areas of their lives and their careers.

Interviewer: Thank you, Marissa. Well, you've all really highlighted the need to have goals and none of you are certainly standing still and you've all got some great aspirations ahead of you and I wish you all the very best in achieving them. Finally, in the vein of Julian's Ramiro's home delivery, what advice about school would you give your 16 year old self? Dwan, can you take yourself back to life in rural Victoria and advise yourself?

Oh goodness, I don't think I'd ever actually wanna do that. But if I have the chance, I would say to my 16 year old self, you do you. So what I mean by that is don't look at what others are doing around you, run your own race and don't feel you have to compete with them. If you don't know what you wanna do it's not the end of the world, that's okay, careers are not linear. I would say, to help you out though I would say increase your awareness of what's out there. So how to do that. So perhaps connect with STEM experts on social media, you'll find that there's actually lots especially on Twitter and you might feel a bit frightened to actually engage with them, but if you're curious and really wanna know what they do and why they do it, they are absolute nerds, they'll love it, they will love engaging with you. So ask them questions, don't be afraid to do that, and that way you'll increase the repertoire of people that are in STEM fields that you can inspire and be inspired by. And if you broaden your horizons, then you'll know what's out there and what opportunities you might be able to have. You can't be what you can't see, or you can't be what you don't know exists. So by all means connect, and remember you do you.

Interviewer: Some great advice there Dwan. Bianca, what advice would you give yourself looking back to when you were 16?

Oh my goodness, ditto what Dwan said. I would say don't follow or don't feel that you need to follow the crowd, go with what you want to do. And again, like Dwan said, ask your teachers, careers advisors, parents or guardians for advice. Listen and evaluate what they have to say. Don't discount their comments, they might have some really salient points of advice that you may learn just a little bit, just something from. And then evaluate your options and exactly what Dwan said for you, and do what you think is right for whatever the right decision is for you at that point in time with the information that you have, and then my advice is to go and do it. And if it works for you, great, you've hit a goal, and if it doesn't then reevaluate and reassess your options. Life's a journey and full of learning experiences and we're not gonna get it right 100% of the time so just get out there.

Interviewer: Fantastic, thanks Bianca. You pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start all over again. It's some great advice, have a goal. So Renee, how would you advise your 16 year old self? You've come a long way and since then what advice would you give back to yourself?

For me, it's all about self-determination and not giving up on yourself. So no matter the failures that you experienced, the struggles or self-doubt that you carry they are all completely normal, those feelings and thoughts and they shouldn't stop you from being able to succeed. So your ability to succeed is reliant on your ability to accept the way that you feel and push through it anyway. You'll probably always experience those feelings throughout your career, and I know I certainly do, and so the secret to success is building a strong network, having determination, working hard and pushing through those feelings of imposter syndrome or self-doubt. And knowing that you can honestly find a work around to achieve anything that you want in your life and you don't need to follow the mainstream way of doing things. Just don't back down and don't forget to back yourself.

Interviewer: Some fantastic advice said to yourself in deed. With the benefit of your experience, what advice would you give to your 16 year old self when you were still at school?

What advice will I give to my 16 year old self. I think one of the most important thing is to be curious and keep learning. So besides going to your classes, I think it's important to get involved in extracurricular activities or some of the competitions out there. I personally have benefited a lot by getting myself involved in workshops, competitions, and also getting to know a lot of people. One of the advice that my high school teacher gave me was to treat your life and your career like a science experiment, and I thought that was a very valuable advice because I still practice that till today. So be innovative by coming up with smart guess lists and hypothesis and also ideas, and then run them through like an experiment, test them out and see what results you get because science and technologies are all around us. So I think it's a matter of following your interests, see where it goes and learn from the experience.

Interviewer: Fantastic, thank you so much, Pearl. So Marissa, with the benefit of many years of study how would you advise your 16 year old self?

That's such a good question. And that would have been when I was in about grade 11, I think, and when I was thinking I was going to be some kind of an artist or a designer, but I never really had a solid plan. So I'll just tell that girl to enjoy the ride, and it's gonna take you all over the place and to sponge up as much information and experiences as you possibly can, because it's all important. And another thing I would have told her or would tell her is to look after your mental health. When I was that age, I struggled quite a bit, I very rarely talk about it and I don't think I ever have publicly actually. But at that age I had an eating disorder that lasted for several years and I recovered from that but I'd tell my 16 year old self to get some help and some support and your mental health is absolutely number one. And when I was that age, I had very little education about how to look after my mental health. And that's been a really big journey for me and as a young person, but also as an adult. And so if you want to be successful at school and in your career, you need to look after yourself and get the tools to help your mental health.

Interviewer: Well, thank you for that Marissa. And thank you for sharing some of your life with our students today and highlighting the importance of mental health. Well, there was some wonderful advice there from our superstars, and we can see that they're going to have a wonderful year supporting girls in science and in bringing the message of STEM to the community. So that brings our discussion to an end and thank you to our fabulous Superstars of STEM, Bianca Shepherd, Renee Button, Marissa Bets, Pearl on and Dwan Price. Your time, inspiration and insights have been really appreciated. Thank you too to all those dedicated science teachers across New South Wales who brought their students to this presentation. You are charged with the most important task of inspiring all our students in science on a daily basis. If you'd like to hear more from these five or any of the other 55 superstars, check out their bio's at Science and Technology Australia where you can book an individual speaker for your school.

And finally to the students who have watched today's webinar, we hope you have enjoyed hearing from these amazing Superstars of STEM and inspire to undertake a future in science, who knows in 10 years time you may well be a Superstar of TEEP STEM taking the message of the value of a career in science to students across Australia. Thank you ladies.

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