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Meet 3 awesome women in STEMM

For so long, the stereotypical image of a scientist was some old white bloke with zany hair wearing a lab coat. While some dark corners of media and advertising still occasionally fall back on this prehistoric caricature, thankfully now life no longer imitates art. Science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine – or STEMM – is populated by dynamic, exciting, passionate and smart women, from all backgrounds and walks of life.

 

Karlie Noon 

Karlie Noon, University of Newcastle

Karlie Noon is an astrophysicist, Gamilaraay woman, the first Indigenous Australian in NSW to obtain a Bachelor of Mathematics and Bachelor of Science (from the University of Newcastle), and now studying for her Masters of Astronomy and Astrophysics. (@karlienoon)

What attracted you to science, and what do you love about it?

I kind of found it through philosophy, which is one of those fields where there is no answer, everything’s open and everything’s up for debate. That pushed me in a complete opposite direction – I wanted something tangible and finite and I found that through maths. I really enjoyed doing maths, and there’s always a right and wrong answer.

I’m in a subject where I have to learn something new every day, and just experiencing that growth and seeing what I’m capable of; it’s very motivating and keeps me passionate.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your career?

My background did not set me up for this kind of life, and that’s been a bit of a journey. I have an incredibly supportive family, they are so proud of me. But I didn’t even know what university was or what physics was until I actually got to university. So that’s created some difficulties that I’ve had to overcome. But at the same time I’ve definitely learnt from that as well.

What advice do you have for women and girls interested in a career in the sciences?

Don’t downplay who you are, don’t downplay your gender because you’re in a field where girls aren’t typically there. Be proud of being a girl, whatever that is, whether you wear pink everyday, whether you wear black. It doesn’t matter, it doesn’t influence your intellect.

Karlie Noon | @karlienoon

And embrace maths. It’s not always everyone’s favourite subject but try and consciously find ways that you can do maths and you can practice it and you enjoy it.

 

Professor Lisa Harvey-Smith

Professor Lisa Harvey-Smith  

Professor Lisa Harvey-Smith is an astrophysicist, Australia’s first Women in STEM Ambassador, and Professor of Practice in Science Communication at the University of New South Wales. (@lisaharveysmith)

What attracted you to science, and what do you love about it? 

Definitely the chance to follow in the footsteps of the great oddballs of history, the people who focused single-mindedly on solving the mysteries of nature – that attracted me, as a young idealist I suppose. The reality of science is much more interesting. Travel, international collaboration and the chance to use and build some of the biggest and best scientific instruments in the world is definitely a thrill.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your career?

The biggest challenge of my career has been finding my groove – my place in the system. My sweet spot, if you will. Now I’ve finally found it, at the nexus of science, communication and making the world a better place.

What advice do you have for women and girls interested in a career in the sciences? 

Don't fall into the trap of thinking science isn't for you, just because you can't immediately see role models like you, or identify exactly where you fit in. If your aim is to change the world for the better, you will find your niche.

Professor Lisa Harvey-Smith | @lisaharveysmith

Just start by equipping yourself with the essential skills; maths, physics, computing, chemistry, biology, engineering, whatever it is that will help you solve problems in this world.

 

Professor Veena Sahajwalla

Professor Veena Sahajwalla Photo Credit: UNSW, Anna Kucera

Professor Veena Sahajwalla is a materials engineer, inventor, and Scientia Professor at the University of New South Wales. (@VeenaSahajwalla)

What attracted you to science, and what do you love about it?

I was always very curious about all the things that I thought didn’t make sense to me. Even thought it was probably considered normal that this was happened with rubbish and factories made things and stuff happened, I always wanted to challenge the norm. Making and breaking things was always something that excited me; sometimes breaking was more fun.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your career?

I’m talking about something that can be quite challenging scientifically and technologically. People will have some degree of scepticism and put that negative sentiment out there. People will always doubt if that is even possible, but I guess to me it’s that much harder, more challenging and more fun finally when you crack these things and can see it work.

What advice do you have for women and girls interested in a career in the sciences? 

You’ve got to make it what you really love doing, because science is such a broad spectrum of activities. You can have unimaginable impact. You can even go well and truly beyond what you can ever dream of. If you’re following what your heart wants you to do, what you love doing, all the bits and pieces of who you are as a human being really come together.

 

Photo: Karlie Noon, University of Newcastle

 


Bianca Nogrady
Bianca Nogrady is a freelance science journalist, author and broadcaster, who’s never met a piece of scientific research she didn’t find fascinating. Find her on twitter via @BiancaNogrady

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