Women in Science Symposium 2017

On Friday, 3 March the Australian National Maritime Museum together with Science 50:50 hosted the Women in Science Symposium. Approximately 320 high school girls from Sydney, Canberra and regional NSW attended and had the opportunity to hear from several young scientists working in private enterprise, research, science communications and their own start-up companies.

Professor Veena Sahajwalla, the Director of Science 50:50 welcomed the girls and spoke about how finding your passion can help make a mark on the planet. “Get excited today, because you might learn that there are a whole bunch of things that Science can do that you’d never even heard of. You’re going to hear from some speakers that are all doing different and incredible things in their careers,” she said.

The speakers reiterated that studying STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) didn’t necessarily mean a career in a lab coat awaited.

Solange Cunin, the 23 year old CEO of Cuberider, explained that as a high school student growing up in rural northern NSW, she quickly realised that she enjoyed making things with her hands and also looking up at the clear night sky with her telescope. She combined these interests and decided that she wanted to pursue study and a career in Aerospace Engineering. “Don’t be afraid to have an outlandish goal or passion or something you want to achieve. I wasn’t the most studious student in school by nature, but I knew that I had to apply myself in order to achieve my higher goal. I knew that I was required to do Extension Maths and Physics, for example, to reach that goal,” she said.

Shane Cox, CEO of Instrument Works said; “In reality, today’s graduates go on to have three or four careers, not just one. So, don’t worry about what you are going to do in ten years, worry about what you are going to do tomorrow. Find something that you love and are passionate about.”

Heather Catchpole, science journalist and co-founder of Refraction Media, explained that; “There’s a decline in students taking up computer science in an age where Instagram, Snapchat and other amazing business are starting up and taking off. There’s a huge opportunity there for your generation to create jobs in that space.”

Some students asked if Australia was the best place for students interested in Science and Engineering to study and pursue careers.

“Hands down, Australia in Scientific Research is one of the best performing countries in the world. There’s a huge industry in mining, we’re likely to be developing the next quantum computer which could be as big as Silicon Valley put together in terms of space, there’s the Square Kilometre Array, the world of defence is spending more than $200billion dollars on new submarines… the people who will be driving those submarines are in high school now. Australia has huge talent in Science,” Warren McKenzie, business developer manager for a nanotechnology research facility said.

Nathan Adler, the 25 year old CEO of Surf Sense added; “The startup space in Australia is growing, so there’s so much opportunity there for the next generation.”

But why do we need to encourage more women into Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths?

“What inspires me the most about Science is that no matter how much our understanding of everything has increased over the centuries, there’s always something more to discover. Science needs women with their unique perspectives to contribute to that process of discovery,” Dr Bronwyn Graham, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at UNSW and a practising clinical psychologist said.

While women make up half of the Australian population but only one in four IT graduates and less than one in 10 engineering graduates are women (1). Half of all Bachelor of Science and PhD graduates are women but less than one in five senior research positions in Australian universities and research institutes are women (2). We are missing out on talented and inspiring science teachers, researchers, entrepreneurs and policy-makers – today and in the future.

The high school girls enjoyed the opportunity to ask more questions and network with the speakers and also had the chance to rotate through several exclusively designed museum activities.

Images by the Australian National Maritime Museum.