Tag Archives: Women in Science

collaborative relationships

The art of collaborative relationships

When we speak of innovation we increasingly couple it with collaboration. Collaboration is regularly promoted as a positive attribute and a productive means to an end.

In my own research, I promote collaboration as a mechanism for including more women in scientific teams in male-dominated fields, and as a mechanism to sustain research when individuals are juggling the competing demands of life and family.

In this context, at one end of the spectrum we might be speaking of the collaboration that characterises teamwork within an organisation, while at the other end of the spectrum we might be speaking of international scientific collaboration that draws geographically dispersed networks together.

My research over the past decade on women in the academy and women in science has heightened my interest in the art of collaboration and how it might encapsulate ‘the way we do things around here’ – our organisational culture.

I am particularly interested in the way in which men are sponsored and socialised into strategic relationships, particularly with business and industry – an opportunity not readily available to most women.

Yet we know little about the social processes that sit behind the scientific production of knowledge, and most of our recognition and reward systems focus on the outstanding individual.

The myth of individual creative genius is a myth that my colleagues who work with remote Indigenous communities – just like those in large international scientific research teams – know is culturally and historically specific.

Those who are privileged to work with Indigenous communities know that collaboration based on deep respect of different ‘ways of seeing,’ encoded in art, language and religion and formulated over extremely long periods of time, is central to sustaining collaborative relationships. Longevity of relationship is particularly highly valued, and the time taken to build respectful collaborative relationships and trust is a critical part of this sustained engagement.

They also know that while knowledgeable individuals are involved, the knowledge is collectively owned and accessible only through well-established protocols.

The art of collaboration is far more than a set of pragmatic, instrumental practices. With a degree of candour, I should state that I am not always a great collaborative partner. I put this down to my academic identity being formed in the discipline of anthropology where the ‘rite de passage’ was years of field research alone in a remote village.

This prepares the aspiring researcher for collaboration from a position of heightened ignorance but not necessarily with academic peers with a common knowledge base. I also evidence deficiencies in two attributes essential to collaboration: time and discomfort with failure.

Innovation demands the time to build teams, network, establish cross-sectoral collaborative relationships, generate and test ideas, fail, learn and start again, and to translate research findings and disseminate these to a range of audiences. It also requires the time for reflection and exercise of the imagination.

Collaboration at its best generates this time and, at its best, offers a safe space to fail.

Professor Sharon Bell

Honorary Professor College of Arts and Social Sciences, ANU

Board Member, Ninti One

Read next: Heather Catchpole: Collaboration at a higher scale

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L’Oréal women in science

L’Oréal Women in Science 2016

Featured image above: L’Oréal Women in Science fellow Dr Camilla Whittington. Credit: University of Sydney

Four researchers from the University of Sydney, the University of Wollongong and the University of Auckland were announced as the 2016 L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science fellowships at a ceremony held in Melbourne on Tuesday.

Early-career veterinary scientists Dr Camilla Whittington and Dr Angela Crean joined chemists Dr Jenny Fisher and Dr Erin Leitao to receive $25,000 each towards a one-year project.

According to L’Oréal, the Women in Science fellowships were established to “support and recognise accomplished women researchers, encourage more young women to enter the profession and to assist them as they progress their careers”. The fellowships began in 1998, and have recognised over 2,000 women around the world since then.

From the University of Sydney:

“Both Dr Whittington and Dr Crean are early career researchers in the Faculty of Veterinary Science, working in the area of reproduction; both are in research positions funded through the Mabs Melville bequest in excess of $7.2m – one of the biggest gifts ever received by Veterinary Science.

Dr Crean’s work with sea squirts and fly sperm

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Dr Angela Crean. Credit: L’Oréal

Dr Crean’s initial research, using the sea squirt as a model organism, showed males can adjust their sperm quality and quantity in response to a perceived risk that their sperm will have to compete against another male’s sperm to fertilise an egg. The sperm quality also had adaptive consequences for both fertilisation and offspring survival.

Similar work using the neriid fly showed sperm quality could be adjusted by the father’s diet and social environment.

The L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Fellowship will allow Crean to conduct a proof-of-concept study supporting her transition from pure evolutionary research to practical applications in human reproductive health and medicine.

Dr Whittington’s research into pregnant lizards, fish and mammals

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Dr Camilla Whittington. Credit: L’Oréal

Dr Whittington, who last year was one of five University of Sydney researchers who won a 2015 NSW Young Tall Poppy Science Award, is using cutting‐edge techniques to identify pregnancy genes – the instructions in an animal’s DNA causing them to have a live baby rather than laying an egg.

‘Pregnant lizards, fish and mammals face complex challenges, like having to provide nutrients to their embryos and protect them from disease,’ Whittington says.

‘My research suggests that these distantly related animals can use similar genetic instructions to manage pregnancy and produce healthy babies.’

Whittington’s fellowship will allow her to investigate how the complex placenta has evolved independently in mammals, lizards, and sharks to transport large quantities of nutrients to the fetus.”

This information on the L’Oréal women in science was first shared by the University of Sydney on 25 October 2016. Read the original article here.

From the University of Wollongong:

Dr Fisher’s research into compounds that contribute to climate change and air pollution

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Dr Jenny Fisher. Credit: University of Wollongong

“Dr Jenny Fisher from UOW’s Centre for Atmospheric Chemistry studies how different emissions interact with one another.

‘When I was little, I was intrigued by outer space and I knew I wanted to work for NASA. As my career progressed I felt that understanding my own planet was more important to me, so I made the change to researching the chemistry of our atmosphere,’ Fisher says.

Through the financial support provided by the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Fellowship, Dr Fisher plans to develop an Australian atmospheric chemistry model, similar to those already successfully used in North America and Europe. Australia provides a unique globally-relevant lens for examining these processes due to the nation’s much lower presence of nitrogen oxides, pollutants that mainly come from human activities like driving cars and burning coal in power plants.

As stricter emission controls are enforced globally, the level of nitrogen oxides elsewhere in the world are predicted to decrease and Australia serves as a window to the expected future pollution outcomes.

The information provided from the model Dr Fisher works on will assist in predicting pollution amounts and their responses to future change. Australia’s much lower nitrogen oxide levels means this atmospheric model will also provide a novel insight into the pre-industrial atmosphere.

Currently, Dr Fisher can only investigate the Australian atmosphere by looking at large areas (~5 million hectares); however with the funding she will work on a more accurate ‘nested’ model, which can show what is occurring within an area more than 60 times smaller. This will enable her to increase the complexity of her atmospheric chemistry research and findings.

‘Winning the fellowship means I will finally be able to apply tools I have used in other global environments to problems that are specific to Australia. This work will help advance scientific understanding of the atmosphere on a global scale — while also providing new insight into what affects our local air quality,’ she says.

Dr Fisher’s work highlights her passion for communities to understand the impact we have on the environment. Her work in unlocking information about the chemistry of our atmosphere will improve our ability to make informed decisions in order to live in a sustainable way.”

This information on the L’Oréal women in science was first shared by the University of Wollongong on 25 October 2016. Read the original article here.
If you enjoyed the L’Oréal women in science, you might also enjoy: Prime Ministers Prizes for Science
gender

How to balance gender in STEM

Sobering statistics on gender disparity were released by the Office of the Chief Scientist in early 2016 as part of a report on STEM-based employment. These followed the federal government’s National Innovation and Science Agenda (NISA) announcement of a $13 million investment to encourage women to choose and stick with STEM careers. So, what are the issues for men and women entering STEM graduate pathways today and how can you change the game?

The rate of increase in female STEM-qualified graduates is outstripping that of males by 6 per cent. Overall, however, women make up just 16% of STEM-qualified people, according to the Chief Scientist’s March 2016 report, Australia’s STEM Workforce.

Recognising that more needs to be done, a cohort of exceptional female and male leaders in academia and industry is developing two strategic approaches that will receive the bulk of the new NISA funding. These are the industry-led Male Champions of Change initiative, and the Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) pilot, run the Australian Academy of Science and the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering.

SAGE was founded by Professors Nalini Joshi and Brian Schmidt (a Nobel laureate) with a view to creating an Australian pilot of UK program the Athena SWAN Charter. Established in 2005, Athena SWAN was described by the British House of Commons as the “most comprehensive and practical scheme to improve academics’ careers by addressing gender inequity”.

Since September 2015, 32 organisations have signed up for Australia’s SAGE pilot, which takes a data analysis approach to affect change. Organisations gather information such as the number of women and men hired, trained and promoted across various employment categories. They then analyse these figures to uncover any underlying gender inequality issues, explains Dr Susan Pond, a SAGE program leader and adjunct professor in engineering and information technologies at the University of Sydney. Finally, participating organisations develop a sustainable four-year action plan to resolve the diversity issues that emerge from the analyses.

Women occupy fewer than one in five senior researcher positions in Australian universities and institutes, and there are almost three times as many male than female STEM graduates in the highest income bracket ($104K and above). The Australia’s STEM Workforce report found this wealth gap is not accounted for by the percentage of women with children, or by the higher proportion of females working part-time.

There are, however, some opportunities revealed by the report. While only 13% of engineering graduates are female, 35% of employees with engineering degrees are female, so a larger proportion of women engineers are finding jobs. Across all sectors, however, employment prospects for STEM-qualified women are worse than for non-STEM qualified women – a situation that’s reversed for men.

Part of the problem is that graduates view academic careers as the only outcome of a STEM degree – they aren’t being exposed to careers in industry and the corporate sector, says Dr Marguerite Evans-Galea, a senior research leader at the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute and co-founder of Women in Science Australia.

“There are so many compounding issues in the academic environment: it’s hypercompetitive, you have to be an elite athlete throughout your entire career,” she says. “This impacts women more because they are often the primary caregivers.”

An increased focus on diversity in STEM skills taught at schools, however, is changing the way women relate to careers in the field, Marguerite says.

“There are opportunities for women because, with diversified training, we can realise there is a broad spectrum of careers. A PhD is an opportunity to hone your skills towards these careers.”

In the workforce, more flexible work arrangements and greater technical connectivity are improving conditions for women at the early-career level but, as Marguerite points out, there is still a bottleneck at the top.

“I’m still justifying my career breaks to this day,” she says. “It’s something that travels throughout your entire career – and this needs to change.”

Part of the issue is the way we measure success, as well as gender disparity, on career and grant application review panels – and this won’t change overnight.

“How we define merit may be different if there are more women in the room,” Marguerite adds. “There will be a more diverse range of ideas. Collaborations and engagement with the public may be valued more, as well as your ability to be an advocate and be a role model to other women in STEM. Paired with essential high-quality research, it could provide a broader lens.”

-Heather Catchpole

This article was first published on Postgraduate Futures on 29 May 2016. Read the original article here.

Fast-tracking women in STEM

Featured image above: Jane Elith from the University of Melbourne is an early career researcher, yet in the field of environment and ecology, she is the 11th most cited author worldwide over the past 10 years, and is the only Australian woman on the highly cited list. Women in STEM represent just 18% of academic positions in Australia.

Advocacy for gender equity in science is changing, with men as likely as women to make the case for increased participation for women in STEM, former Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick says.

And there’s a simple business case as to why: “No one of us can ever be as good as all of us acting together,” says Broderick, who served as Sex Discrimination Commission from 2007–2015 and in 2010 founded the Male Champions of Change group, which brings together some of Australia’s most influential and diverse male CEOs and Chairpersons.

“Women represent such a small percentage of [staff at the] professorial level and organisation leading level, and yet 50% of our talent resides in women,” Broderick told 320 delegates at the SAGE symposium on Friday 24 June.

SAGE is Australia’s Science and Gender Equity initiative to promote gender equity for women in STEM. Broderick will chair the program, which with the Male Champions of Change group will receive the bulk of the $13 million National Innovation and Science Agenda funding to support women in STEM careers.

Practical initiatives for women in STEM

SAGE runs the Athena Swan Charter, which takes a data analysis approach to effect change in organisations, which then work towards a series of awards based on the success of their gender equity programs.

On Friday SAGE announced that another eight organisations including the Burnet Institute, Federation University Australia, James Cook University, Defence Science and Technology Organisation, Bond University, Macquarie University, University of the Sunshine Coast, and the Australian Astronomical Observatory had signed on for the charter, bringing total participation in Australia to 40 research and academic institutions.

Women make up just 16% of the STEM-qualified workforce, according to the Chief Scientist’s March 2016 report, Australia’s STEM Workforce.

“At a turning point”

“We are at a conscious turning point for enabling equity for women scientists. We need role models that can unconsciously change perceptions,” says Dr Susan Pond AM, Co-Chair of SAGE and Interim Chief Operating Officer and Adjunct Professor in Sustainability at the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney.

Broderick adds that while women comprise more than half of graduates and postgrads in STEM, they comprise just 18% of academic positions. “The absence of women perpetuates the absence of women.”

“If we don’t actively and intentionally include women, the system will unintentionally exclude them.”

The gender pay gap also sits at around 18%, Broderick says.

Two practical ways the Male Champions of Change addresses gender equity for women in STEM is through the ’50:50, if not why not’ and the panel pledge, says Broderick.

In the panel pledge, males commit to speaking at events only if there is equal representation by women in STEM, and reserve the right to pull out even at the last minute if this isn’t happening.  The Male Champions of Change developed the ’50:50, if not why not’ slogan in response to gender inequity.

“In our DNA”

Seeking out and addressing gender imbalance “ought to be in our institutional DNA”, Australia’s Chief Scientist, Dr Alan Finkel, told the symposium.

Fewer than one-third of graduates in 2011 (the latest figures available from the Australian census) were women in STEM, says Finkel.

“I look to universities to not just reflect society today, but to model the society of tomorrow.”

– Heather Catchpole

directed evolution

First woman wins Millenium Technology Prize

Featured image above: Frances Arnold. Credit: Caltech

Frances Arnold, the Dick and Barbara Dickinson Professor of Chemical Engineering, Bioengineering and Biochemistry at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), has been awarded the Millennium Technology Prize for her “directed evolution” method, which creates new and better proteins in the laboratory using principles of evolution. The Millennium Technology Prize, worth one million euros (approximately A$1.5 million), is the world’s most prominent award for technological innovations that enhance the quality of people’s lives.

Directed evolution, first pioneered in the early 1990s, is a key factor in green technologies for a wide range of products, from biofuels to pharmaceuticals, agricultural chemicals, paper products, and more.

The technique enlists the help of nature’s design process — evolution — to come up with better enzymes, which are molecules that catalyse, or facilitate, chemical reactions. In the same way that breeders mate cats or dogs to bring out desired traits, scientists use directed evolution to create desired enzymes.

“We can do what nature takes millions of years to do in a matter of weeks,” says Arnold, who is also director of the Donna and Benjamin M. Rosen Bioengineering Centre at Caltech. “The most beautiful, complex, and functional objects on the planet have been made by evolution. We can now use evolution to make things that no human knows how to design. Evolution is the most powerful engineering method in the world, and we should make use of it to find new biological solutions to problems.”

Directed evolution works by inducing mutations to the DNA, or gene, that encodes a particular enzyme. An array of thousands of mutated enzymes is produced, and then tested for a desired trait. The top-performing enzymes are selected and the process is repeated to further enhance the enzyme’s performance. For instance, in 2009, Arnold and her team engineered enzymes that break down cellulose, the main component of plant-cell walls, creating better catalysts for turning agricultural wastes into fuels and chemicals.

“It’s redesign by evolution,” says Arnold. “This method can be used to improve any enzyme, and make it do something new it doesn’t do in nature.”

Today, directed evolution is at work in hundreds of laboratories and companies that make everything from laundry detergent to medicines, including a drug for treating type 2 diabetes. Enzymes created using the technique have replaced toxic chemicals in many industrial processes.

“My entire career I have been concerned about the damage we are doing to the planet and each other,” says Arnold. “Science and technology can play a major role in mitigating our negative influences on the environment. Changing behavior is even more important. However, I feel that change is easier when there are good, economically viable alternatives to harmful habits.”

“Frances is a distinguished engineer, a pioneering researcher, a great role model for young men and women, and a successful entrepreneur who has had a profound impact on the way we think about protein engineering and the biotechnology industry,” says David Tirrell, the Ross McCollum-William H. Corcoran Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at Caltech. “The Millenium Technology Prize provides wonderful recognition of her extraordinary contributions to science, technology, and society.”

Arnold received her undergraduate degree in mechanical and aerospace engineering at Princeton University in 1979. She earned her graduate degree in chemical engineering from UC Berkeley in 1985. She arrived at Caltech as a visiting associate in 1986 and became an assistant professor in 1987, associate professor in 1992, professor in 1996, and Dickinson Professor in 2000.

She is the recipient of numerous awards, including in 2011 both the Charles Stark Draper Prize, the engineering profession’s highest honor, and the National Medal of Technology and Innovation. Arnold is one of a very small number of individuals to be elected to all three branches of the National Academies—the National Academy of Engineering (2000), the Institute of Medicine (2004), and the National Academy of Sciences (2008)—and the first woman elected to all three branches.

“I certainly hope that young women can see themselves in my position someday. I hope that my getting this prize will highlight the fact that yes, women can do this, they can do it well, and that they can make a contribution to the world and be recognised for it,” says Arnold.

The Millennium Technology Prize is awarded every two years by Technology Academy Finland (TAF) to “groundbreaking technological innovations that enhance the quality of people’s lives in a sustainable manner,” according to the prize website. The prize was first awarded in 2004. Past recipients include Sir Tim Berners-Lee, creator of the World Wide Web; Shuji Nakamura, the inventor of bright blue and white LEDs; and ethical stem cell pioneer Shinya Yamanaka. Arnold is the first woman to win the prize.

– Whitney Clavin

This article was first published by Caltech on 24 May 2016. Read the original article here.

discovery

Thrill of discovery

The thrill of discovery is what biochemist Marilyn Anderson relishes in her work. “It’s a feeling you can’t even imagine: when you’re the first person to solve a problem,” she says.

Anderson is a Professor of Biochemistry at the La Trobe Institute for Molecular Science (LIMS) and the Chief Science Officer of Hexima, a biotechnology company embedded in LIMS. Anderson co-founded Hexima in 1998 following her discovery of naturally occurring insecticidal and antifungal molecules in the reproductive parts of plants.

The team at Hexima are exploiting these molecules to develop genetically modified crops that are protected from insect predation and fungal infections – a game changer for agriculture. Research in this area is ongoing, as insects are developing resistance to the commonly used BT toxin, an insecticide produced by the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, and new insecticidal genes are needed. “It’s a huge market,” says Anderson.

“We will not be able to feed and clothe humanity if we don’t have insect and fungal-resistant plants.”

Anderson did a BSc (Hons) at the University of Melbourne and then completed her PhD in biochemistry at La Trobe University. Her enthusiasm for this field is clear: “I’m still knocked over by just how amazing biology is, and how things have evolved to work”.

After graduating, Anderson was drawn to “the revolution of the time – the beginning of gene cloning and molecular biology”. She moved to the USA and worked on diabetes at the University of Miami before transferring to Cold Spring Harbor to conduct cancer research. “We were paving the way. It was extremely exciting because while I was at Cold Spring Harbor the first oncogenes, or cancer-causing genes, were discovered,” she says.

Expertise in molecular biology was internationally sought after at the time and was the crux of much interdisciplinary research. In 1982 Anderson was offered a job with Laureate Professor Adrienne Clarke AC at the Plant Cell Biology Research Centre at the University of Melbourne. “That was a big switch for me,” says Anderson. “I’d been working on cancer and this was a botany school.” Together, Anderson and Clarke were able to discover the gene that prevents self-pollination, or inbreeding, in flowering plants.

Now a leader in the scientific community, Anderson is not only a director at Hexima; she is also on the La Trobe University Council and was inducted into the 2014 Victorian Honour Roll for Women for her scientific achievements.

Gender equality and supporting women in science are two things Anderson is passionate about. “There’s a lot of work to be done just to give women equal opportunity,” she says. “There are many talented female scientists here at Hexima, and I enjoy mentoring women and helping them through the early stages of their career.”

Anderson conducts workshops with secondary students that focus on women in science, and she’s part of Supporting Women in Science (SWIS), a new association at La Trobe that gives guidance to female postgraduate researchers in STEM.

“This is a proactive program to direct universities to pay more attention to gender diversity.”


Anderson will be speaking at Women in Science, an event hosted by La Trobe University for Melbourne Knowledge Week in May 2016. The panel discussion will centre on the underrepresentation of women in STEM careers. The MC will be science journalist Robyn Williams. Panel speakers will also include NHMRC Biomedical Fellow of the Peter MacCullum Cancer Centre, Misty Jenkins; Head of La Trobe’s School of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences, Wenny Rahayu; and nanotechnology research assistant and nominee for Women’s Weekly Women of the Future Award in 2015, Elana Montagner. For more information and to register for the event, head to www.latrobe.edu.au/womeninscience.


Cherese Sonkkila