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As the evolution of technology, medicine and our environment takes place, science is an exciting place to be. It’s time to rid your brain of those Year 8 frog-dissecting traumas, and allow us to introduce you to some impressive women who are using science to invent a whole new world, reports Natalie Brown.
Beakers, lab coats, periodic tables… and a high chance of it all ending in a headache (or explosion). These are the things that — for the duration of my primary and secondary schooling years — I associated with the word science.
But it is all so much bigger than that.
Studying the lifespan of stars, inventing devices to help cancer patients, and even solving crime… the potential of creating change in all aspects of society is huge. “Science benefits our lives in ways that, often, we can’t even imagine are possible,” says Vanessa Hill, founder of BrainCraft, a popular educational YouTube channel.
Inventor of SMART Armour, a device for breast cancer patients to protect their healthy breast during treatment, Macinley Butson, says that science — and STEM more broadly — has the ability to create advancement for society that can’t be matched by any other field. “We’re becoming reliant on it for the next gadget, the next cure, the next discovery, the next big thing — and I think it drives change in the world,” says Macinley. “The constant development of this area is incredible, as we continue to learn new things and do what was once considered impossible.”
A lot of people seek out a career in science “because they’re curious about how the world works, did well in the subjects at high school or they’re motivated to invent something,” says Vanessa. But there are barriers that need to be addressed. “There definitely are hurdles,” explains climate scientist Nerilie Abram, “and some of them aren’t easy to see.”
While there are thousands of successful female scientists in Australia working across many disciplines, astrophysicist Lisa Harvey-Smith believes the greatest barrier is inequality based on gender. “We know from research that there are barriers to women and people from minorities progressing in the workplace — this includes STEM careers,” she explains.
STEM is male-dominated, and female scientists often face the daunting prospect of being the only woman in the room. Taking time away from a fast-paced and competitive career can also present a challenge. Finding a strong work-life balance, the prospect of having children, or simply maintaining relationships is difficult.
The good news, explain both Lisa and Nerilie, is that the industry is moving in a direction that better champions women. “I am really heartened to see a lot of changes around me that are aimed at giving women the opportunities and recognition that they deserve in science,” says Nerilie. “We still have a way to go before all people are given equal opportunities, but there are a lot of good people — both men and women — who are working hard to get us there.”
Lisa agrees, acknowledging that there are people working to remove the industry’s barriers and make work more equitable. “The future looks bright and the future is STEM,” she says. “As the world changes and technology transforms the way we live and work, we need women to design a better future.”
It’s a career of discovery.
We’ve interviewed eight scientists who are kicking career goals and changing the world at the same time.