Tag Archives: Science and Technology Australia

international women's day

Celebrating STEM leaders this International Women’s Day

In 2018, Science & Technology Australia (STA) celebrated their leadership team – which includes researchers, innovators, communicators and advocates – this International Women’s Day for the contributions they have made to their field and to Australian science and technology. Read the leadership team’s profiles in the following section.

For the 2019 International Women’s Day , Science & Technology Australia is calling on every Australian to #NominateHer to celebrate inspiring, capable women across the country.

recent study published in Nature looked at the recipients of awards in biomedicine in the USA, and it found a stark gap in gender representation.

President of Science & Technology Australia, Professor Emma Johnston AO, said only 24% of recipients of the three most prominent science prizes in 2018 were female (excluding female-only awards).

“Last year, we saw some amazing science recognised through national awards – the Prime Ministers Prizes for Science, the Eureka Awards, and the Academy of Science’s honorific awards,” she said.

“Across these three award programs, which span the full gambit of science and technology, only one quarter of those recognised were women.”

“I think we can do better than that.”

The Nature study also found where there was greater prize money, the gender gap was even more stark.

“We are facing similar disparity here in Australia, as over the life of the Prime Minister’s Prizes for example, only 20% of recipients have been female,” Professor Johnston.

“According to those who run the awards, the issue comes down to a lack of nominations.”

She said International Womens Day would be the perfect time for Australians to #NominateHer, to make sure this wasn’t a problem in 2019.

“We are proud to build on great campaigns like ‘Honour a Woman’, which seek to bring balance to Australian awards and honours,” she said.

“We know there are hundreds of inspiring women who do fantastic, ground-breaking work across Australia, and we hope that 2019 will be the year we even the odds.”

“We want to see nominations for a range of leading and emerging scientists – who will you be nominating today?”


Awards that are currently open for nominations include:

Meet the STA leadership team:

Emma JohnstonA/Professor Judith DawesDr Cathy FoleyDr Zoe DoubledayTanya HaKylie WalkerProfessor Dianne JolleyDr Katherine DaffornA/Professor Coral WarrProfessor Rebecca RitchieA/Professor Ulrike MathesiusKylie Ahern


Professor Emma Johnston in the fieldProfessor Emma Johnston
STA President

Emma is Dean of Science at UNSW Sydney, one Australia’s leading marine ecotoxicologists, and an enthusiastic advocate for the STEM sector. A keen sailor from an early age, Emma recognised a way to combine this passion with her new-found interest in biology while completing her undergraduate Bachelor of Science at the University of Melbourne. She went on to complete her PhD in marine ecology in 2002.
Emma was the inaugural recipient of the Nancy Millis Award for Women in Science in 2014, and was presented with a Eureka Prize in 2015 for her work communicating science. Emma hosts the TV series Coast Australia, is a regular commentator on all things STEM in mainstream media, and serves as a mentor for young scientists and technologists through programs like the Superstars of STEM. Most recently Emma delivered the televised National Press Club Address, where she spoke about the challenges facing Australian science and technology and the ways the sector can thrive in to the future.

“We want a community of Australians who are striving and thriving together. Using science and technology – the method, the rigor, the drive, the imagination – to make our world a better place for all who live within it – regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, heritage, sexual orientation. Our ambition should be open to all.”


Judith Dawes

Associate Professor Judith Dawes
STA Treasurer

Judith is one of Australia’s leading researchers in optics and photonics, working in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Macquarie University.
Judith grew up amongst a family of scientists, becoming fascinated by the way atoms react to form molecules. She started to use lasers to study this process and since then has studied many different phenomena, from tissue welding in surgery and remote sensing of toxic gases, to communications using light.
Her current work involves researching the applications of light at the nanoscale, in particular for biophotonics.


Cathy FoleyDr Cathy Foley
STA Policy Chair

Cathy is Deputy and Science Director of CSIRO Manufacturing, where she works with Australian researchers and manufacturers to build new companies to assist with the translation of research for economic prosperity. Her own work has involved researching superconducting materials and applying this work to do things like detect magnetic fields and locate valuable deposits of minerals.
Cathy is a current and former Chair of many distinguished committees and groups, and previously served as a member of the Prime Minister’s Science Engineering and Innovation Council. She was named NSW ‘Woman of the Year’ in 2013, and in 2015 received the Clunies Ross Medal and the Australian Institute of Physics’ Outstanding Service to Physics Award.


Zoe Doubleday at workDr Zoe Doubleday
STA Early Career Representative

Zoe is an ecologist and Research Fellow at the University of Adelaide, and was recognised for her work with the South Australian Young Tall Poppy Award in 2017.
She investigates how marine plants and animals respond, for better or worse, to our changing environment. Based on these responses, she makes predictions about what our future oceans may look like, and has a particular interest in “weedy” species, like squid and octopus, that adapt to thrive in the face of change.
Zoe is also looking at how the readability of scientific papers can be improved to facilitate better transfer of knowledge between science, industry, policy and the broader community.

“When I work with an equal mix of men and women this is what happens: everyone talks, trust is higher, confidence is boosted and creativity abounds. Imagine what we could achieve in STEM if we had a diverse workplace every day all day.”


Tanya Ha at workTanya Ha
Ordinary Member Representative

Tanya is an award-winning Australian environmental campaigner, author, broadcaster, science journalist and sustainability researcher. She is also a media commentator on science and environmental issues and a behaviour change researcher.
She was a reporter for ABC’s Catalyst and an ambassador for National Science Week, and is currently an Associate at the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute at the University of Melbourne, and Director of Engagement at the communications agency Science in Public.
Tanya is on the advisory groups of the ARC Centre of Excellence in Exciton Science, Science Gallery Melbourne and the Thrive Research Hub, and has also served on the boards of Sustainability Victoria and Keep Australia Beautiful (National Association). Her books include GreeniologyThe Australian Green Consumer Guide and Green Stuff for Kids.

“Our girlfriends, sisters, aunts and daughters need us! and They need information to make informed choices, and women are often more receptive to advice from other women. If our female scientists, doctors and evidence-based advocates don’t step up, we’re leaving our girlfriends listening to the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow, Jenny McCarthy and Belle Gibson. This is scary in the age of fake news and Facebook.”


Kylie WalkerKylie Walker
STA CEO

Kylie is CEO of Science & Technology Australia, Chair of the Australian National Commission for UNESCO, and co-Chair of the National Research and Innovation Alliance. She is also a board member of the ACT Domestic Violence Crisis Service, and a visiting Fellow at the Australian Centre for the Public Awareness of Science.
Kylie is a proud advocate for women in science and technology, most recently developing and launching the Superstars of STEM program in 2017. She has worked as a senior communications and advocacy leader in the STEM sector for more than 10 years, and specialises in connecting scientists and technologists with governments, businesses, media and the Australia public.

“The unfortunate reality is that many people still think of a white-haired man in a lab coat when they think of scientists, but this hasn’t been true for decades: in fact there are all kinds of clever and dedicated women and men working in the labs, fields, at the computers and in the STEM companies of Australia.”


Dianne Jolley in the lab, image courtesy of UoWProfessor Dianne Jolley
STA Cluster Representative – Chemical Sciences

Dianne is a leading environmental chemist and toxicologist, and Head of the Environmental Chemistry and Toxicology Lab at the University of Wollongong. Her work has had  significant impacts in the disciplines of analytical and environmental chemistry and ecotoxicology, and she has been recognised as a Fellow of the Royal Australian Chemical Institute.
She has multiple national and international collaborators within academia, industry and government, and has been responsible for supporting more than 40 young women and men research students to graduate. Dianne is also a past president of the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC).


Katherine DaffornDr Katherine Dafforn
STA Cluster Representative – Aquatic Sciences

Katherine is a Senior Research Associate at the School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences at UNSW.
She is a marine ecologist and science communicator, who works on green engineering of artificial structures, stormwater and ecosystem services, marine debris in Sydney Harbour, and other areas of applied marine and estuarine ecology.
Katherine has featured on local and national media to discuss her work, and was awarded the 2008 John Holliday Student Conservation Award.


Coral WarrAssociate Professor Coral Warr
STA Cluster Representative – Biological Sciences

Coral is the Associate Dean Research and Head of the Faculty of Science at Monash University, and a leader in cellular and developmental genetics.
Her work looks at how cells detect signals from the environment, or from each other, during development and in the adult organism. Understanding this is critical because dysregulation of cell signalling underlies many of the major diseases that afflict society, including cancer and obesity.
Coral is also the President of the Genetics Society of Australia.


Rebecca RitchieProfessor Rebecca Ritchie
STA Cluster Representative – Cognitive and Medical Sciences

Rebecca is the Head of Heart Failure Pharmacology at Baker Heart & Diabetes Institute and a NHMRC Senior Research Fellow.
She is internationally-recognised for her contributions to cardiac pharmacology and identifying potential new treatment strategies for arresting the progression of heart failure. Her work has been recognised with awards from the Australasian Society of Clinical & Experimental Pharmacologists & Toxicologists and Diabetes Australia.
Rebecca is also a passionate advocate for women in STEM and an active mentor for early and mid career researchers.


Ulrike Mathesius on the jobAssociate Professor Ulrike Mathesius
STA Cluster Representative – Plant and Ecological Sciences

Ulrike is Sub Dean for the Bachelor of Philosophy (Science) program and a Professor of Plant Science in the Research School of Biology at the Australian National University (ANU). She is a teacher and researcher in the areas of plant science and microbiology, and looks at the symbiotic relationship between plants and soil bacteria – in particular legumes. While most plants need artificial nitrogen fertilises for optimum yield, legumes gain nitrogen from the air through this partnership with nitrogen-fixing soil bacteria.
Ulrike’s groundbreaking work has seen her receive both the Goldacre Medal from the Australian Society of Plant Scientists and the Fenner Medal from the Australian Academy of Science.

“My advice for women in STEM would be to charge ahead with your interests and find a place that is supportive of your work. Science is a very absorbing and fun occupation and if it is your passion you will find a way to make it happen.”


Kylie AhernKylie Ahern
STA Cluster Representative – General Representative

Kylie is an award-winning science publisher and entrepreneur. She was a co-founder at Cosmos Media; an award winning media company that launched Cosmos, Australia’s most popular science magazine and website.
She helped establish the Nature Publishing Group in Australia – creating and launching products to the academic market – and in 2016 founded her current business, STEM Matters.
Kylie is also an Advisory Board Member for the Australian Centre for Robotic Vision, and a former Board member at Publishers Australia.

This article was originally published by Science & Technology Australia.

women in STEM

Everywoman: the modern scientist

I’ve always been a strong proponent and active promoter of women in all fields of endeavour, but for about a decade now my focus has been on promoting the stories of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). So I was somewhat horrified when I took a Harvard University-designed online test designed to detect unconscious gender bias in STEM and found that, when it came to science and technology, I very slightly and subconsciously favoured men.

How could this be? Deep-seated societal programming and a lifetime of hearing ‘he’ as the default is very difficult to undo. Children’s toys and characters in books are often automatically ‘he’: we have to think twice to designate a character as ‘she’. Growing up surrounded by assumptions, words and images that constantly reinforce gender stereotypes, we have our work cut out for us. And when it comes to STEM, those stereotypes are so embedded that even people like me, who actively work against gender stereotypes, unconsciously assume scientists are men.

That’s a tough thing to admit, but I believe it’s important. If I recognise the problem, I can start to do something about it.

There are many important and worthwhile programs aimed at changing the systemic barriers to the retention and advancement of women in STEM. I am so heartened by the rapidly growing volume of excellent work being done in this arena. It’s a significant and meaningful step towards building true equality.

As well as changing the systems in which we work, I believe we also must create new stereotypes. To do that, we need to significantly elevate the visibility of women in STEM, and in particular the visibility of heroines of STEM. We must tell our stories; we must tell them loudly, we must tell them often, and we must tell them in many different ways.


“Changing a stereotype can take generations, and different audiences respond to different story-telling techniques and platforms, so the more people telling success stories of women in STEM at all career stages, the merrier.”


I’m a woman in STEM, but I’m not a researcher or entrepreneur. Instead, my work is to support and elevate scientists and people working in technology. My background is in communication, and my focus has been to find and publicise our success stories. This is not an exclusive or competitive endeavour. Changing a stereotype can take generations, and different audiences respond to different storytelling techniques and platforms, so – as far as I’m concerned – the more people telling success stories of women in STEM at all career stages, the merrier.

We need children’s books featuring women engineers, scientists and technology gurus. We need to celebrate and include women in STEM on social media, in magazines, on daytime TV, on talkback radio, in soapies and the news. We need to see women equally represented on stage at public and private events. We need them on websites, in advertising, and on blogs.

I know the first reference source for many students is Wikipedia, so a few years ago I created the first ‘Women of Science Wikibomb’, with the dual purpose of increasing the (woefully low) percentage of women Wikipedia editors, and increasing the number of Australian women scientists celebrated with their own page on Wikipedia. About 150 science enthusiasts – most of them women – participated all over Australia. Between us, on a single day during National Science Week we created 117 new Wikipedia pages about Australian women scientists. The model has since been replicated by research institutions, museums, governments and big corporations, and the number of Australian women in STEM featured on Wikipedia continues to grow.

I’ve organised nationally broadcast women in STEM events at the National Press Club, supported an outstanding woman scientist to create a Boyer lecture series on Radio National, contributed to creating a national award for women in STEM, and created and produced more than 30 public events featuring women doing extraordinary and fascinating work across the breadth of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

I’ve also coordinated exclusive interviews in the news media and extensive social media campaigns highlighting the vast range of stories, work and motivations of Australian women in STEM at all levels. Science & Technology Australia will keep adding to that work, but it’s just a small drop in a very large ocean. We need lots and lots more drops (some fabulously clever woman could probably tell me exactly how many drops there are in any given ocean). We need to permanently dislodge the ‘pale, male, and stale’ STEM stereotype and recast the modern scientist as everywoman as well as everyman. We need to normalise the idea of women in STEM so completely that the unconscious bias test becomes obsolete.

The good news is, my nine-year-old daughter counts doctor and engineer among her career aspirations (along with rock star and veterinarian). And my 11-year-old son names among his role models geneticist Professor Suzanne Cory and physicist Professor Tanya Monro. Why? Because they’ve both met a number of women working in science and technology, including those two high-achieving professors. Because they have shelves full of books and games featuring women scientists, engineers and maths whizzes as lead characters. Because their parents routinely show them true stories featuring women working in STEM – as researchers, lab assistants, teachers, policy-makers, entrepreneurs and communicators. Because, for them, the stereotypical scientist is just as likely to be a woman as they are a man.

Kylie Walker

Chief Executive Officer, Science & Technology Australia

Read next: Pip Marlow, Managing Director of Microsoft Australia, on encouraging girls in STEM and the value of maths to future careers.

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 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.

research commercialisation

Research commercialisation is push and pull

‘It’s not me, it’s you’, is the message from universities to industry in terms of success in partnering and commercialisation of research and development.

Dr Leanna Read, Chief Scientist of South Australia and the founder and former CEO of TGR BioSciences, says universities are unfairly “bagged” for not pulling their weight in collaborating with industry and in fostering the development of research commercialisation partnerships.

“Our surveys have shown there is a strong interest in commercialisation and a willingness [in university research] to engage with industry,” she told the Australian Financial Review’s Innovation Summit in Sydney today.

“One of the issues is the nature of our industry sector. We are dominated by small to medium enterprises and we tend to be low in the level of innovation happening at this level. We have a problem here where research has all the will in the world to knock on doors of industry – the trouble is they’re not going to get a terribly good reception,” she says.

“We need to grow an innovative culture in these companies.”

TGR BioSciences focuses on drug discovery assay technologies and applies its core skills in cell biology to the development of new biodetection technologies.

Universities willing to engage

Emeritus Professor Jim Piper AM, President of Science and Technology Australia, and previously from Macquarie University, says there is a “high awareness” in universities to “encourage commercialisation”.

“There are impediments, however.

“One of the issues is the silo-isation of research which has been aided and abetted by the funding mechanism of universities.”

Many people forget that the university system is a service industry driven by international reputation, Piper points out. International students choose universities based on their impact factor and international reputation, and Australian universities rely heavily on liquidity from international students.

Shifting to a focus towards research commercialisation-based funding, or key performance indicators based on partnership success, the so-called ‘partner or perish’ is a massive shift in this context, he says – but one that universities are willing to make.

“One thing you can say about university researchers is they really chase the money. If that is in collaboration, then that is where they will chase it.

“One of the issues with unis is that, in most cases, commercialisation officers don’t have critical mass and there are challenges.”

For example, there are challenges in sharing and applying intellectual property (IP), he says.

“At Macquarie University, students at the start are invited to assign their intellectual property rights to the university so the uni can negotiate on their part. Often [in other universities] students keep their IP and this can be very complicated,” he told the summit.

Practice makes perfect

The problem may lie in experience in negotiations, says Professor Ian Frazer AC, Chair of the Medical Research Future Fund and inventor of the cervical cancer vaccine.

“We probably aren’t experienced enough at this negotiation [between academia and industry],” says Frazer. “There are excellent examples of industry-uni partnerships working, but there needs to be a lot of talk to make this happen.

“We’ve got to change both sides of the equation, for industries and universities. For example, the health sector relies on unis to provide input to research. We need to ensure that there is engagement between health researchers and industry, but industry needs to realise that research is critical to what it does,” he says.

Dr Steve Jones, global head of research and development at Australian R&D spin off cancer company Sirtex – a medical device company providing a radioactive treatment for inoperable liver cancer – agrees that universities have “had a rough ride” to make dramatic changes to the way they incentivise research to promote collaboration and research commercialisation.

Sirtex has approached universities to work on research but found that it worked best when they had an identifiable problem to take to the researchers, he told Science Meets Business.

Unis have work to do too

Read acknowledges that universities also have work to do, with funding for projects traditionally focussed on research project grants rather than looking to the issues faced by customers, the business approach controversially emphasised by CSIRO CEO Dr Larry Marshall, who also spoke at the summit.

“We need more of a ‘what is the problem and how do I solve it’ approach – this is what Cooperative Research Centres do well and we need more of that kind of research,” says Read.

More pull less push towards research commercialisation

Chief Defence Scientist Dr Alex Zelinksy says any successful negotiation “needs to be win-win” for both university and industry.

“There is a push and a pull element. There is a pioneering spirit (do it yourself) rather than an entrepreneurial spirit in terms of business and commercialisation of research. We need everyone to come together.”

He agrees that one of the barrier is around intellectual property. “Access to IP needs to be on fair and commercial terms.”

– Heather Catchpole

Read more: Collaborate or Crumble

Science meets parliament

Science meets Parliament

Featured image above: In his  National Press Club address this week Australia’s Chief Scientist, Alan Finkel, says lessons can be learned from The Swedish Vasa warship. Photo courtesy of Dennis Jarvis as per the Creative Commons License, image resized.

Finkel’s speech was the National Press Club address for Science meets Parliament 2016. This two-day event brings together scientists looking for better ways to communicate their research to policy makers.

Over a series of workshops and activities, people from the media, policy advisers and parliamentarians share their insights on developing policy and how to engage key influencers.

With a host of esteemed speakers, the Science meets Parliament program covers topics such as ‘what journalists need to turn your science into news’ and ‘science and politics, how do they mix?’. This year it also addressed what the National Innovation and Science Agenda means for scientists across Australia.

The event’s organisers, Science and Technology Australia, say that Science meets Parliament aims to “build links between scientists, politicians and policymakers that open up avenues for information and idea exchanges into the future”.

It also hopes to “stimulate and inform Parliament’s discussion of scientific issues that underpin Australia’s economic, social and environmental wellbeing”.

At last year’s event, Professor Ian Chubb AC, former Chief Scientist, spoke about the pace of progress over the past 25 years and how science will be a cornerstone for future prosperity.

This year, Australia’s Chief Scientist, Dr. Alan Finkel AO, spoke about a nation in transition, learning from failure and encouraging intelligent innovation. Finkel believes this requires thinking and operating at scale, and collaborative research to manage the issues and interactions that surround bold, innovative technology.

Click here to read the full transcript of Finkel’s address published by The Conversation on 2 March 2016.

Click here to see some of the speeches presented at last year’s event, such as The Messy Nature of the Policymaking Process, Who is Inspiring Australia? and Getting your Science out of the Lab.

– Elise Roberts