Role models for women in science (and where to find them)

Role models for women in science (and where to find them)

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Fighting gender inequality in Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Medicine, now known as the STEMM fields, means challenging a culture of low expectations.

In this insightful long form piece written for New York Times Magazine about the reasons for the lack of women in STEMM, Eileen Pollack finds that in general, women aren’t expected to pursue STEMM careers, and are therefore less likely to do so. This diminished expectation also manifests in varieties of subtle and not-so-subtle discrimination that discourage women from following a career in the applied sciences.

In order to help combat this, women who have established themselves in science are looking to become role models and mentors for young women seeking careers in STEMM. We spoke with science communicator and La Trobe alumnus Michelle Gallaher (Bachelor of Applied Science) about the importance of role models for women in the sciences.

Who’s promoting women in STEMM?

Michelle Gallaher is the 2017 Victorian Telstra Business Woman of the Year and founder of The Social Science, a company dedicated to cross-platform science communication for commercial and government organisations. She’s also the co-founder of Women in STEMM Australia, an organisation that connects Australian women in STEMM across different disciplines and professions. Michelle says,

If younger women and girls have strong STEMM female role models and female mentors, they are far more likely to choose STEMM.

Gallaher’s work has connected her with many eminent female scientists in Australia and overseas. And while reluctant to play favourites, Michelle lists Dr Marguerite Evans-Galea (Executive Director of IMNIS), Dr Leslie Chong (Managing Director and CEO of ASX listed biotech company Imugene) and Michelle Price (CEO of AustCyber and author of the Australian government’s cybersecurity policy) as some of her own role models – women who she describes as positive forces of nature, exceptionally clever and capable.

La Trobe alumnus Michelle Gallaher connects women in STEMM careers.

Online role models: finding women scientists on Instagram

Fully realised STEMM careers are impressive, but they can also be intimidating. While it’s exciting to look up to people at the top of their field, it’s perhaps even more important to see people who are on their way up.

Georgia Atkin-Smith is a sessional lecturer and a final year PhD student in biochemistry and immunology at La Trobe University. She’s doing her bit to make women more visible in science by posting her day-to-day lab work to the social media platform Instagram.

Georgia says that publishing her Instablog has led to a huge amount of support and encouragement from the wider science community, and credits a few fellow science Instabloggers who have helped inspire and motivate her. These include Astrophysicist Emma Osborne, PhD Researcher Samantha Yammine, and Biochemistry PhD Sasha Weiditch who also writes a blog about women in science.

It’s never too early to start building your STEMM networks: La Trobe PhD candidate Georgia Atkin-Smith follows women scientists on Instagram.

Offline networks: connecting with women in STEMM you already know

For young women looking to pursue careers in the STEMM fields, Michelle Gallaher has the following advice.

‘Ask the parents of your friends, your extended family and search your wider social networks and you will probably discover a number women who have qualifications in STEMM, or who work in STEMM industries,’ she says.

‘Keep an open mind as there are some tremendous women working in non-stereotypical STEMM roles as lawyers, marketers and accountants who may or may not have STEMM qualifications – these women are all tremendously valuable to speak to about STEMM careers, and may be able to open doors for you in accessing work experience or job and study opportunities, just as traditional scientists, engineers and clinicians can.’

If you’re considering a career in STEMM, La Trobe isn’t short of inspirational women in science who will help you find your feet.

  • Professor Jill Slay AO is La Trobe’s Optus Chair of Cybersecurity and the Director of the new Australian Centre for Cybersecurity. Professor Slay has worked all over the world as an advisor to government, defence and academia.
  • Professor Marilyn Anderson AO, from La Trobe’s Department of Biochemistry, is another keen advocate for women in STEMM. Professor Anderson’s current work focusses on the creation of plants that use naturally occurring molecules to protect themselves from predators and disease.
  • Professor Jenny Graves is a distinguished geneticist, the 2017 recipient of the Prime Minister’s Prize for Science, and a huge advocate for women in STEMM.

When it comes to starting out in science, there are plenty of women out there who want to help. Don’t be shy. Reach out! A coffee or an email to a potential mentor could do your STEMM career the world of good.

Kickstart your STEMM career at La Trobe University.


Connect with industry experts and find your clever at the La Trobe Postgraduate Expo, from 10.30am-4pm, Tuesday 9 October at our Melbourne Campus.

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