Tag Archives: thought leadership

combining skills

Women in STEM: the revolution ahead

On September 8, 70 days after the end of the financial year, Australia marked equal pay day. The time gap is significant as it marks the average additional time it takes for women to work to get the same wages as men.

Optimistically, we’d think this day should slowly move back towards June 30. And there are many reasons for optimism, as our panel of thought leaders point out in our online roundtable of industry, research and government leaders.

Yet celebrating a lessening in inequity is a feel-good exercise we cannot afford to over-indulge in.

While we mark achievements towards improving pipelines to leadership roles, work to increase enrolments of girls in STEM subjects at schools and reverse discrimination at many levels of decision making and representation, the reality is that many of these issues are only just being recognised. Many more are in dire need of being addressed more aggressively.

Direct discrimination against women and girls is something I hear about from mentors, friends and colleagues. It is prevalent and wide-reaching. There is much more we can do to address issues of diversity across STEM areas.

Enrolments of women in STEM degrees vary from 16% in computer science and engineering to 45% in science and 56% in medicine. These figures reinforce that we are teaching the next generation with the vestiges of an education system developed largely by men and for boys. There is a unique opportunity to change this.

Interdisciplinary skills are key to innovation. Millennials today will change career paths more frequently; digital technologies will disrupt traditional career areas. By communicating that STEM skills are an essential foundation that can be combined with your interest, goals or another field, we can directly tap into the next generation. We can prepare them to be agile workers across careers, and bring to the table their skills in STEM along with experiences in business, corporates, art, law and other areas. In this utopian future, career breaks are opportunities to learn and to demonstrate skills in new areas. Part-time work isn’t seen as ‘leaning out’.

We have an opportunity to redefine education in STEM subjects, to improve employability for our graduates, to create stronger, clearer paths to leadership roles, and to redefine why and how we study STEM subjects right from early primary through to tertiary levels.

By combining STEM with X, we are opening up the field to the careers that haven’t been invented yet. As career areas shift, we have the opportunity to unleash a vast trained workforce skilled to adapt, to transition across fields, to work flexibly and remotely.

We need to push this STEM + X agenda right to early education, promoting the study of different fields together, and creating an early understanding of the different needs that different areas require.

This is what drives me to communicate science and STEM through publications such as Careers with Science, Engineering and Code. We want to convey that there are exciting career pathways through studying STEM. But we don’t know what those pathways are – that’s up to them.

Just think how many app developers there were ten year ago – how many UX designers. In 10 or even five years, we can’t predict what the rapidly growing career areas will be. But we can create a STEM aware section of the population and by doing so now, we can ensure that the next generation has an edge in creating and redefining the careers of the future.

Heather Catchpole

Founder and Managing Director, Refraction Media

Read next: CEO of Science and Technology Australia, Kylie Walker, smashes all of the stereotypes in her campaign to celebrate Women in STEM.

People and careers: Meet women who’ve paved brilliant careers in STEM here, find further success stories here and explore your own career options at postgradfutures.com.

Spread the word: Help Australian women achieve successful careers in STEM! Share this piece on women combining skills in STEM using the social media buttons below.

More Thought Leaders: Click here to go back to the Thought Leadership Series homepage, or start reading the Graduate Futures Thought Leadership Series here.

Australian life science

Innovation in life sciences

The community of Australian life science innovators are clever, focused and driven. Yet many fail to achieve their commercial goals. Sometimes this because of the science – which is not yet sufficiently developed for the commercial path.

Sometimes it is inexperienced management or governance. But usually, the key barrier is access to capital. Australia has talent and good ideas aplenty, but our small economy and lack of risk capital produces challenges not seen in bigger economies, like the USA. “Yes,” I hear you saying.

What about other smaller nations? It is true that some Scandinavian countries and Israel perform very well. But when the culture, government structures, location and many other factors are taken into account, the comparisons with Australia – although very useful– are not equivalent.

In order to optimise our performance and deliver both social and economic benefits, the current conversation at the Federal level is well directed. We need an approach that is system-oriented; that considers the international exemplars and how they can be applied in the Australian context, and pays attention to capital access.


“The strength of biotechnology for our economic future is clear, but to realise its vast potential will take radically new thinking and an entrepreneurial attitude.”


When the Biomedical Translation Fund (BTF) was announced as part of the Turnbull Government’s National Innovation and Sciences Agenda (NISA) in December 2015, it was welcomed by AusBiotech as a game-changing package that will transform Australia’s ability to commercialise.

The biotechnology and medical technology sectors are particularly excited by the ability of the program’s investment to be a multiplier and make available much-needed capital to translate our research from universities and medical research institutes into products and services – including medical therapies and cures, medical devices, digital heath solutions, diagnostics and vaccines.

Fund manager, GBS Ventures, which specialises in the life sciences has invested $400 million in 30 companies in recent years and reports it has attracted $5 in private money for every $1 of public money invested.

So far as this can be extrapolated to the new fund, the BTF could be the catalyst for over $2.5 billion to flow into the sector.

The BTF is envisaged as a for-profit investment program of $250 million that is to be matched by an additional $250 million from private investors, so creating a $500 million capital pool available for commercialisation of biotech and medtech projects.

Funding would be engaged, inter alia, before and during clinical trials and product registration stages. The investments by the BTF and its private co-investors are likely to fall in the range of $5 million to $20 million per project.

This is great news for a cash-starved sector.

The strength of biotechnology for our economic future is clear, but to realise its vast potential will take radically new thinking and an entrepreneurial attitude. How we make and fund these new technologies by attracting capital is key.

AusBiotech is pleased to see the Government has been listening to calls for a focus on translation.

Australian life science companies attracted almost $2 billion in deals over the last 18 months, which illustrates that the sector is attractive to investors and demonstrates a good pool of quality technology, talent and opportunity that the BTF will now exploit. Finance from the BTF, along with the R&D Tax Incentive scheme is a powerful, one-two punch that will make a material difference to success in life sciences.

Dr Anna Lavelle

Chief Executive Officer, AusBiotech

Read next: Professor Peter Coaldrake AO, Vice-Chancellor of QUT on Overcoming academic barriers to innovation.

Spread the word: Help to grow Australia’s innovation knowhow! Share this piece using the social media buttons below.

Be part of the conversation: Share your ideas on innovating Australia in the comments section below. We’d love to hear from you!

Engineering solution

Engineering solutions

From a purely engineering perspective, all real world problems are solvable. Nobody would choose to be a design engineer unless they deeply believed in their own ability to solve problems through creativity and a deliberate methodology – identify the problem, analyse it, build a prototype, test it, iterate, deliver the solution.

In the real world, of course, the challenges are much more difficult. Social, political and economic considerations prevail, often ruling out the elegant solutions that an engineering approach would suggest.

Let me give you an example: climate change. The problem is clear: global temperatures are rising, ice sheets are melting and oceans are acidifying. The analysis is clear: human activities, including the burning of fossil fuels for energy, are leading to rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and are driving the problem. The imperative is clear: cut emissions – and do it quickly.

The pure engineering solution would involve massive installations of solar and wind, backed up by natural gas turbines, hydrogen storage, pumped hydro storage and battery storage to handle the intermittency, and investment in new hydroelectric and nuclear electricity generation.


“The challenge for engineers when it comes to these large-scale, socially complex issues is to work closely with colleagues across the humanities and social sciences to build solutions that communities can and will take forward.”


Once the existing electricity supply is decarbonised, the amount of low emissions electricity generated would be doubled or tripled so that liquid fossil fuels for transport and natural gas for heating could be rapidly replaced by low emissions electricity.

If only human affairs were so straightforward!

The challenge for engineers when it comes to these large-scale, socially complex issues is to work closely with colleagues across the humanities and social sciences to build solutions that communities can and will take forward.

But not all challenges are as wicked as climate change. The engineering method delivers handsomely in the corporate world, most often in collaboration with marketing, psychology and customer support systems. Smartphones, automobiles, improved building technologies and advanced materials are just some of the myriad examples.

The engineering method is also very applicable to organisational management. The evidence based, non-ideological problem solving approach of engineering can serve leaders from the shop floor to the corporate board.

When it comes to politics, in some countries (such as Germany) engineers are highly valued. But in Australia, they’re far less visible. I don’t know why that is so, but perhaps we need to be teaching charisma as a graduate attribute in Australian engineering faculties.

At the very least, we should be making crystal clear to our engineering students their opportunity to contribute to society outside of their profession.

Dr Alan Finkel AO

Australia’s Chief Scientist

Read next: Dr Anna Lavelle, CEO and Executive Director of AusBiotech on Innovation in Australian life sciences.

Spread the word: Help to grow Australia’s innovation knowhow! Share this piece using the social media buttons below.

Be part of the conversation: Share your ideas on innovating Australia in the comments section below. We’d love to hear from you!