Superstars of STEM – become a voice for female scientists

STEM, women in science, Science

Superstars of STEM is a fantastic opportunity for female NYSF alumni who are interested in developing their communication, presentation and media engagement skills.

Science & Technology Australia is now accepting applications for the inaugural Superstars of STEM. The professional development program aims to smash society’s gender assumptions about scientists and increase the public visibility of women in STEM.

Superstars of STEM will support 30 of the nation’s most dynamic female scientists and technologists to become role models for young women and girls, and work towards equal representation in the media of men and women in STEM.

Science & Technology Australia’s, Chief Executive Officer, Kylie Walker, said the program provides a great career development opportunity for female scientists.

“The opportunities that will come from this program will propel these women’s careers, shaping them to become influencers and leaders in their sector.”

Successful applicants will participate in workshops, networking, mentoring, media and public speaking throughout the program

Women from all STEM disciplines are encouraged to apply, in fields including but not restricted to mathematics, technology, biology, medical research, geology, marine science, microbiology, engineering, physics, astronomy, and more.

Applications close 5pm, 23 May 2017.  To find out more or to apply go to

For further enquiries about the program contact Brodie Steel, Project Officer – Superstars of STEM, Ph 02 6257 2891 or email

Imagine yourself falling in love with the idea of being a scientist

By Kate O’Sullivan

Tanya Monro, Emma Johnston and Nalini Joshi have one very important thing in common. All three are scientists in senior positions in their respective fields. And all three of them took to the stage at the National Press Club in Canberra, in March, to discuss a topic near and dear to all of them – the importance of having women working in science.

Along with some fellow NYSF Alumni, I was very fortunate to attend. I say fortunate because what was to follow was the telling of some of the most interesting stories of women in STEM fields, the barriers they have come up against, and the steps we can take to try and overcome them.

NYSF at the National Press Club Left. Brody, Ruth, Brittany & Julie Right - Melanie, Kate, Madeline & Patrick

NYSF at the National Press Club
Left- Brody, Ruth, Brittany & Julie Right – Melanie, Kate, Madeline & Patrick

Professor Tanya Monro, NYSF Chair and Deputy Vice Chancellor Research and Innovation at the University of South Australia, shared her story that highlights the implicit biases against women in research. Professor Monro was turned down for one of the PhD projects she applied for because the prospective supervisor did not think she was the type of student that could thrive in physics research – this was prior to her supervisor seeing her resume or academic credentials. This is a woman who went on to be the first-ever female professor of physics at the University of Adelaide.

Emma Johnston is a Professor of Marine Ecology and Ecotoxicology at the University of New South Wales and Director of the Sydney Harbour Research Program at the Sydney Institute of Marine Science. She told the story of her parents – both with aspirations of careers in science. Her father became a Dean of Engineering with her mother working for a couple of years and then never returning to science after having and raising children because of highly gendered structural barriers and cultural expectations at that time. According to “the system”, Professor Johnson recounts that she “did everything wrong”, from dropping physics and mathematics at university because of the lack of female lecturers and students, to not applying for PhDs or postdoctoral opportunities, but going into teaching instead.

Professor Nalini Joshi, is the first female professor of mathematics at the University of Sydney and an ARC Georgina Sweet Australian Laureate Fellow. She recounted an experience of “being mistaken for the serving staff” at social and networking events.

These women are prime examples of what women can do in science – but we often don’t hear their stories because of biases and barriers to women’s progression in the scientific fields. The subtle push of women out of research is not for females’ lack of interest in STEM areas – rather it is due to institutional, endemic and unseen biases. Nalini Joshi said, “Australia is frozen in time.” The field is competitive and the selection policies for roles tend to self-select women out. As Emma Johnson put it – Why does the system shoot itself in the foot?

These explicit biases have been discussed widely – the motherhood penalty being one of the most commonly mentioned. But the hidden biases are ‘slipperier’ and harder to define. To quote from the discussion – the “under-representation of women in science is only one of the barriers that faces the increasing progress of women.”

Tanya Monro reported that when she had her first child, she found the experience focused her mind more than anything. While at work, she wanted to be there and achieve everything she possibly could because, “why else was he [her son] in childcare?” What made this possible were advocates and mentors. Her boss allowed for a four day week to count as a full time load, empowering her to succeed and feel valued in the workplace.

The three speakers offered the following suggestions to address the issues currently faced by women in STEM:

  • Quotas and Targets
    Although these often cause fear of appointment based on things other than merit, the panel in general agreed that targets, if not quotas should be implemented. They have been shown to work, and to make the definition of merit more equitable in the future. A change in the number of women in an organisation can help shift the culture to better include women.
  • Role models and the idea of critical mass
    In the words of Emma Johnston “When there are fewer women in a room full of scientists, women are acutely aware of their gender. When there is a critical mass, it becomes a discussion of ideas,” she said.
  • The SAGE initiative
    The Australian Academy of Science has adapted this from the Athena Swan program in the UK to eliminate gender inequity and a demonstrated commitment to bolster the hiring, promotion and retention of women, while also improving the workplace environment for people of all genders.

But one quote summed up the entire event for me. “STEM can transform people.” And that is something we need to hold onto – no matter who you are, studying and working in STEM fields can transform a life. We need to make that transformation accessible for everyone. This is much more than getting girls into the science pipeline and into our labs. It’s about making sure that our society can benefit from an education that is rich in science. Until we are all able to pursue our passions (no matter how ‘untrendy’), we have lost the game. Because, as Tanya Munro put it, “we don’t want our daughters to have fewer choices than our sons.”

Watch the discussion on ABC News – or read the speech transcripts.


Other interesting facts about the proportions of Women in STEM can be found at:


From the Director

Welcome to the December edition of NYSF Outlook.

At the time of writing there are 400 young people who are preparing to travel to Canberra for the January 2015 NYSF Sessions. This map shows just how widespread our reach is for young Australians.

Screen Shot 2014-12-08 at 3.37.10 pm

To say that there is a sense of excitement building would be an understatement! I know of at least one group of students that are already ‘counting the sleeps’. Thanks to the support of The Australian National University (ANU), in 2015 we have been able to increase the number of students by 40 places for each of the sessions, giving us a total cohort of 200 per session.

Our domestic students will be joined this year with students from Germany, South Africa, New Zealand, Canada and for the first time Brazil and Fiji. The international participation over January is relatively small, however is well justified in terms of the opportunities it provides for our young people for knowledge and cultural exchange. This also exposes the international students to the study and career opportunities that are available within Australia, which they share in their home communities.

One of the highlights of the NYSF January sessions this year will be the Science Dinners. Instead of having a single keynote speaker as we have had in the past, the dinners this year will be run as a symposium. We have secured some of the best thinkers, researchers and practitioners to participate and offer us their insights. The theme for the Session A Science Dinner is engagement of Women in Science and Engineering (WISE). The Session C Science Dinner will focus on Indigenous Engagement and Knowledge with science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). We believe both of these discussions and the Q&A sessions that will follow will be stimulating for the students. If you are interested in coming along to the dinners, you can buy a ticket.  Email and we can send you the information.

For the 2015 National Science Teachers’ Summer School (NSTSS) we will be welcoming 50 science teachers from across the country from primary, secondary and senior secondary schools. The NSTSS is an NYSF program that is currently conducted in collaboration with the Australian Science Teachers Association (ASTA). The aim of the NSTSS is to immerse teachers in cutting edge STEM research and feed their – often infectious – motivation. The NSTSS challenges the participants to consider the question, “What do we want our students to know about science?” The resulting discussions regularly transcend curriculum frameworks. I would like to acknowledge Questacon and the Federal Education Minister, Minister Pyne, for their financial support for this much-needed program. Negotiations are ongoing to secure the longevity of NSTSS program into the future with the hope of it being extended to other locations.

On behalf of the NYSF Council, Executive and everyone here at NYSF Central, I would like to extend our best wishes for the Festive Season and New Year! And to the 2015 students … we’ll be seeing you soon!

UNSW Science – In the News

Talented Students’ Program at UNSW Science

Each year, the Dean of Science invites the top students in the Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Science (Advanced) degrees to join a bright and inquisitive elite group of students who are mentored throughout their study program. Students typically have an ATAR (or equivalent) of 97.50 so you are mixing with some of the best and brightest students on campus. To find out more, please visit

New UNSW Science degree for 2015 – Bachelor of Life Sciences

In 2015, UNSW will launch a Bachelor of Life Sciences degree which focuses on the biological, environmental and health sciences areas. To find out more, please visit:

UNSW Project 50:50, Inspiring Young Women into Science

Science 50:50 aims to inspire Australian girls and young women to pursue degrees and careers in science and technology so they can succeed in an innovation-driven future. Science 50:50 makes the simple point – since half the population is female, why not half the scientists and technologists? To find out more, please visit

UNSW in first Australian team to win Biomod competition

A DNA nanomachine designed to detect viruses such as Ebola has won the Grand Prize for a team that includes three UNSW students in Harvard University’s biomolecular Biomod Competition – a biomolecular design competition for undergraduates from around the world.

Team Echidna – the first Australian team ever to enter the Ivy League university’s annual competition – beat 33 other teams with their ultra-sensitive biosensor which was inspired by the cooperative behaviour evident in the natural world.

The team included two UNSW Science students and one UNSW Medicine student – Advanced Science student Jon Berengut and Honours student Robert Oppenheimer, who are both studying in the School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences; and Andrew Tuckwell, an Honours student carrying out his project at the Victor Chang Institute.

The six students, who were supervised by Dr Lawrence Lee of the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute, also won the YouTube video prize at the competition.

Their winning entry can be seen here.

Their YouTube video can be watched here.

UNSW Science stands out in the 2014 Young Tall Poppy Science Award

Stand-out researchers in the UNSW School of Psychology have won three of this year’s 10 Tall Poppy Science Awards recognising excellence in science.

The awards, run by the Australian Institute of Policy and Science (AIPS), honour emerging researchers and award them for their world-class research and passionate commitment to communicating science.

Overall, UNSW won five awards, the largest number of winners from one university. The New South Wales winners, Dr Muireann Irish, Dr Angela Nickerson, Dr Thomas Whitfordm Dr Nicola Newton, Dr Megan Lord – from the science, medicine, and engineering faculties – are nominated by their peers and will spend a year engaging with school students, teachers and the broader community to share their knowledge.

The Beacon newsletter from UNSW Science

Are you a Maths and/or Science high school teacher? Sign-up for The Beacon – our Maths & Science Newsletter aimed at high school teachers – to receive the latest Science and Mathematics research and industry news, events, info about new degrees and changes, and more! Sign up here: