Tag Archives: AAS

AAS awardees

AAS awards 24 outstanding Australian scientists

The scientists’ discoveries are changing the world, including revealing the physics of sea-level change, leading the discovery of gravitational waves, harnessing the immune system to fight cancer, answering unsolved mathematical problems and creating cheap, flexible, stable and non-toxic solar cells.

Emeritus Professor Cheryl Praeger receives the inaugural Ruby Payne-Scott Medal and Lecture. It is one of the Academy’s most prestigious awards and honours Ruby Payne-Scott’s pioneering contribution to radiophysics and radio astronomy.

Professor Praeger’s work on problems of symmetry has led a revolution in mathematics, and the algorithms she developed are used in technology around the world.

She has a long track record of mentoring and inspiring others, supporting women, advocating for mathematics in schools and promoting mathematics in emerging economies.

“I feel very humbled to receive the inaugural Ruby Payne-Scott Medal and I feel it a great honour: Ruby Payne-Scott was a trail-blazer for women in science,” said Professor Praeger.

“Along with all women who have had the opportunity of a life-long career in STEM, I feel enormous gratitude to Ruby for her courage in fighting against the restrictions which prevented this for married women in the 1950s.

 “Although I never had the opportunity of meeting Ruby, I am grateful to have known and worked with her son, mathematician Peter Hall.”

Professor Andrew Holmes is the recipient of the Academy’s other Premier award, the 2021 Matthew Flinders Medal and Lecture.

Professor Holmes is recognised for his world-leading contributions to materials science and biology, including plastics that emit light when sandwiched between electrodes connected to a power source—technology that forms the basis of flexible OLED televisions and plastic solar cells.

“Printed plastic solar technology is certainly going to be a technology in the [energy] marketplace,” said Professor Holmes, in a video published today to highlight his award.

“It has the advantage that it’s lightweight, it’s flexible and, in principle, it’s significantly cheaper than the silicon solar cell technology.”

In the career awards, Professor John Endler and Professor Susanne von Caemmerer are each awarded the inaugural Suzanne Cory Medal, which honours the former Academy president and molecular biologist.

Professor John Endler, a world-leading evolutionary biologist, has pioneered the field of sensory ecology, which explores how an animal’s environment helps determine how their specific senses and signals evolve.

Professor von Caemmerer, an expert in the processes underpinning how plant leaves use CO2, has changed the way we think about photosynthesis. Her research, aimed at improving photosynthesis in crops to increase their yields and adapt to climate change, is now applied worldwide.

One of the early-career researchers also honoured this year is Dr Sarah Perkins-Kirkpatrick, a world expert on heatwaves—their causes, impacts and how they are changing as the earth warms.

She led a global study that found heatwaves have been increasing in frequency since 1950, and receives the 2021 Dorothy Hill Medal, which honours Australia’s first woman professor.

President of the Australian Academy of Science, Professor John Shine, said the research of this year’s awardees is at the forefront of science, not only in Australia but around the world.

“While many of these researchers are having direct impacts on our technology and everyday lives, others are pushing the boundaries of basic research—both of which are vital to the advancement of science.

“The Academy is proud to honour such a diverse range of researchers this year, reflecting the people driving Australian science.”

The Academy’s 2021 honorific awards go to: 

Premier honorifics

Career honorifics

Mid-career honorifics

Early-career honorifics

The awards will be presented in online ceremonies over the course of the year.

Read more about each of the Academy’s 2021 honorific awardees. 

gender equity

Gender equity through Athena SWAN

Featured image above: Dr Susan Pond speaking about gender equity at the 2016 SAGE Symposium. Credit: Australian Academy of Science

Led as a joint venture by the Australian Academy of Science (AAS) and the Academy of Technology and Engineering (ATSE), Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) is conducting an Australian pilot of the UK’s Athena SWAN Charter.

SAGE works towards a vision that women and men will be equally represented in STEMM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics & medicine) disciplines in our higher education and research organisations, including in leadership roles.

Despite the fact that higher education enrolments by gender in Australia reached parity in 1988, the percentage of women gaining the rank of full professor in most faculties has remained consistently below 20% to the current day.

This failure to achieve gender equity matters because the Australian higher education and research sectors are:

  • leaking female talent;
  • wasting some of their best people;
  • failing to benefit from the additional range of perspectives and backgrounds they would bring to the table; and
  • losing the opportunity to perform better.

It matters because gender equity is a moral and business imperative. It matters because of the challenge of innovation.

Key to Australia’s economic competitiveness and growth, innovation requires an increasing national proficiency in STEMM. Innovation will be driven by the ability of our higher education and research institutes to generate breakthrough ideas and produce excellent STEMM graduates. It will be driven by the ability of these graduates to translate breakthrough ideas into innovative products and services.

SAGE has adopted the Athena SWAN Charter because it provides a rigorous, system-wide process of gender equity data collection, evaluation and consultation in order to identify the gaps between policies and practices and establish detailed action plans for change.

It requires institutions to demonstrate in their Athena SWAN Award application that they have undertaken and acted upon honest self-appraisal and self-reflection, starting at the leadership level.

The process is transparent – all applications for an Athena SWAN award are made public.

To ensure integrity and rigour, and to assess how Athena SWAN might boost productivity and outcomes in the Australian STEMM landscape, the SAGE Pilot will:

  • commission an independent evaluation of the Pilot;
  • adapt and tailor the Athena SWAN framework to the Australian context;
  • focus on Australian-specific areas such as Indigenous Australians in STEMM;
  • use analytics on pooled data to design informed and evidence-based solutions;
  • identify issues in gender equity that are common across institutions and require policy change across the sector; and
  • through the peer-review process, identify and document best practices that are shown to be working in STEMM.

SAGE and the Athena SWAN pilot in Australia are good news stories.

The bad news is that the widespread resistance to women pursuing careers is longstanding. The feminist, Betty Friedan, whose 1963 book “The Feminine Mystique” changed the lives of many women in the US and worldwide, framed this as “The Problem that has No Name.”

The bad news is that gender discrimination in society is not necessarily intentional or overt. It is unconscious and deeply ingrained in our societal psyche. It flourishes under the radar and is very hard to overturn.

Such discrimination emerges in strange circumstances – for example when women act in ways that aren’t considered sufficiently feminine, or when women advocate for themselves.

Men and women in large part unconsciously find these women unseemly; find them overly demanding and unlikeable.

Hillary Clinton, as an example, is suffering this curse of unlikeability. Scholars agree that it is largely because of her gender.

As Rebecca Sheehan from the US Studies Centre at the University of Sydney wrote recently, “Clinton’s ratings dropped significantly each time she sought political power through electoral office – whether running for US Senate or presidency.

“However, once she achieved positions of power, her approval ratings increased. As Secretary of State, she had an approval rating of 66% (a number Obama himself never reached), and was arguably the most respected politician in the US.

“Now, more than half the country can’t stand her.

“The swings in opinion and their timing suggest that her apparent likeability problem is not only – or not actually – about her. Instead, it’s more about a broader dislike of women who challenge the traditional gender order.”

In her just-released book, What Works – Gender Equality by Design, Professor Iris Bohnet addresses head on how such unconscious bias holds us back in achieving gender equity and why de-biasing each and every individual’s mind has proven to be difficult and expensive.

Bohnet’s emphasis is on de-biasing organisations instead of individuals, as is that of Athena SWAN. She demonstrates that taking this approach has great impact, often at surprisingly low cost and high speed. This is where the Athena SWAN Charter comes to the fore.

Athena SWAN seeks to call out gender inequality by providing evidence for its existence and negative impacts. Athena SWAN seeks to design out from our universities and research organisations the systems that entrench the status quo of gender inequality.

We must work together, men and women, to ensure that Australia’s universities, research organisations and innovation systems can take advantage of our full talent pool.

– Dr Susan Pond AM, FTSE FAHMS

This article is an edited extract from Dr Susan Pond’s speech presented at the 2016 Science in Australia Gender Equity Symposium.