2011 events

The inaugural Great WiSci Debate – 25 November 2011

WiSci debate photo

The WiSci end of year event was a debate on one of the last unanswered questions of modern science. Over the past century we have seen our finest minds work to split the atom, make space travel routine and give us a cream that fights all seven signs of ageing. Now it was time to address the final issue: who’s more scientific, women or men?

The topic was: "That women are naturally more scientific than men". To make it more interesting, a team of men argued the affirmative case while a team of women argued against it. To make it strictly fair, the adjudicator was our Director of Staff and Student Equal Opportunity, Anne Scahill.

WiSci debate photo

The event was promoted from the start as "not serious" and the 90 people in the audience definitely felt this to be true. A Chair in lab coat and nerd specs introduced Dieter Hochuli, Damien Field, Andrew Black, Jill Trewhella, Sally Andrews and Natashia Evans and then we saw every possible angle on gender and scientific stereotypes.

WiSci debate pics

Dieter contributed some excellent data from high-impact supermarket journals and quoted every song lyric released in the 20th century, Sally Andrews produced children’s drawings of scientists who looked uncannily like some senior Faculty members and then we met the United States of Damien Field and things went into a strange new universe. Andrew Black had half the Faculty convinced he sleeps in a coffin lined with unsuccessful grant applications before Natashia’s assertion that all successful scientists need an iPod and a pipette drew nods of agreement from all.

WiSci debate pics

Jill’s final rebuttal speech contained the message that science needs diversity, both from cross-disciplinary research and from men and women working together, which gave us a positive and thoughtful note on which to end.

WiSci debate pics

Following some truly amazing trivia answers in which several audience members revealed themselves to be nothing short of brilliant (or desperate for Caramello koalas) Anne Scahill talked us through her scientific and objective marking criteria: 40% for content, 40% for method and 20% for X/Y factor. After a nail-biting see-saw of scoring, the men were declared the winners by one point, proving definitively that women are naturally more scientific than men. Dieter, Damien and Andrew will share ownership of the exquisite WiSci Debating Trophy for the next year until it returns for the contest in 2012.

The debate continued over drinks afterwards and also turned to brainstorming topics for next year’s event. Stay tuned ...


The eyes have it – a perspective on women in eye health

Our own Professor Tailoi Chan-Ling contributed to this great article on the mivsion site.

It contains an insightful review of the status of women in the workplace in Australia as well as some excellent tips on career management, leadership styles and mentoring, regardless of your industry.

Here’s just one insight from Tailoi:

"As a woman, you’ve got to get out there and find your own mentors. It doesn’t really matter if they’re male or female, but what does matter is that they are inclusive and able to offer sage advice and willing to help you move forward in your career".


WiSci Lunchtime Seminar: Key career tips for successful people

On Friday 21 October nearly 100 women in science, men in science, and their friends and colleagues gathered for a lunchtime seminar on “Some key career tips for successful people”.

Marie O’Brien from Xplore for Success was our guest speaker and she shared with the group some ideas for taking charge of our careers. These were framed as three key things that successful people do well:

  1. Successful people know where they’re going.
  2. Successful people don’t do it alone.
  3. Successful people network strategically.

The discussion included ideas for finding mentors (hint: don’t use the “M” word) and new ways of looking at our networks. Remember to find those connectors, everyone!

After the seminar, the group moved outside for lunch and some hands-on practice at networking. Judging from the volume of the conversations, we are definitely very good at that key career skill.

The final WiSci event for 2011 will be announced shortly ...


Women leading the way with sustainable agriculture in Vietnam

The WiSci project has just heard about some great work being done in Vietnam. Professor Ivan Kennedy from the Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources is working with some amazing women on a sustainable project that improves rice production and benefits poor families. Read more.


WiSci networking lunches

Throughout Semester 2 in 2011, WiSci has been holding a series of networking lunches. These small events were designed to give women in science the opportunity to meet their peers, to share experiences and to discuss topics of interest and relevance.

Each lunch is hosted by a senior member of the University and consists of a maximum of 8 guests plus the host. The theme for each lunch is chosen to reflect the interests of the guests and is an area in which the host will be able to provide insights. We have provided a working lunch of sandwiches, tea and coffee to allow people to talk within a more social and relaxed context.

The lunches have been so successful that many groups have decided to continue on their own and have scheduled regular catch-ups for coffee or lunch.

Topics so far have included:

  • What I wish I’d known about academia when I started
  • Surviving and thriving in the early years of an academic career.
  • Balancing research and teaching
  • Women in the natural sciences
  • Balancing academia and motherhood.

At WiSci, we recognise that many of the challenges faced by women in science relate to the issues of juggling research, teaching and parenthood. As such, many men are also dealing with these challenges and so on 17 October we held a WiSci networking lunch for the dads! Hosted by our steering committee member Associate Professor Dieter Hochuli, eight new fathers gathered to discuss the rewards and the difficulties involved in combining fatherhood with an academic career.

Interested in attending a networking lunch, or want to suggest a topic?


Lunchtime seminar: Women in Australia; Women in Science

WiSci lunch

On Thursday 25 August 2011, Professor Marian Baird from the University’s Women and Work Research Group presented a WiSci lunchtime seminar on the topic of Women in Australia; Women in Science.

Professor Baird was joined by a panel of female academics: Associate Professor Fiona White from the School of Psychology; Dr Rachel Codd from the School of Medical Science; Dr Ana Vila Concejo from the School of Geosciences; and Dr Jenny Saleeba from the School of Biological Sciences. An audience of 90 guests included academic and professional staff from the University, students, colleagues from other universities, visitors from the public and private sector, and of course men in science.

WiSci lunch

Marian discussed a number of studies in Australia and overseas that show that women are still not achieving equality in areas such as pay and representation at senior levels of organisations, including academic institutions. She presented a number of hypotheses, which greatly impressed her scientific audience and which led to some fascinating discussions with the panel.

The audience was also interested in the results of an American survey of academics in the sciences which revealed a culture in which “real men don’t work part time” and where women were expected to be “soft, sweet and serve”.

The panel shared some of their own experiences as women in science and recognised the many things that the University does well in supporting academic women. They also had some great suggestions for further improvements.

We asked the panel what they would do if they were given a magic wand and were able to change one thing at the University today. Here are their ideas:

Rachel split her wand in half, and first chose to increase the visibility of women in science at public lectures, conferences, seminars, and in policy. She sees this as an easy and cost-free mechanism to invert the disproportionate underrepresentation of women, which will serve a key role in showing younger women that there is traction/a career path at upper levels. With the other half of her wand she chose to implement a well-constructed formal mentoring program for women in science.

Fiona made the point that, despite Equity Scholarships such as the Brown and Thompson Fellowships, Re-entry fellowships, Women in Leadership programs, and child care expenses for conference travel, there remains a significant under-representation of women academics in Level D and E positions in the Faculty of Science: approximately 82% male to 18% female.

She would like funding to conduct an evidence-based research study amongst all academics to find out why there continues to be an underrepresentation of women in leadership positions at the University of Sydney, and the Faculty of Science in particular.

Jenny put her magic wand to work on behalf of a vulnerable workforce of scientists, our casual academics. She would like to see them paid in full for the hours they put in, which includes preparation and marking, and feels that it is not justifiable to expect that because casual academics are professional in their work that they will willingly put in extra time for unpaid preparation and marking. Many of them are juggling multiple casual appointments in order to make a living, with each appointment requiring preparation, class time and marking so Jenny would like to see that they are remunerated in full.

WiSci Lunch

Ana chose to wave her wand over an elephant in the room – the perennial issue of childcare on campus. Her magic wand added transparency to the process, so that when parents put their names down in a waiting list they could be told where they were on the list and when they could expect to get a spot. She also chose to use her magic to ensure that the childcare centre on campus was run by a not-for-profit organisation to ensure that fees were cheaper and not more expensive than neighbouring centres.

WiSci lunch

The seminar concluded with the draw of our lucky door prize, the fabulously girly laptop bag kindly donated by our friends at Zafino. It was won by Professor Rosanne Taylor, Dean of the Faculty of Veterinary Science, who modelled it stylishly during lunch.

The lunch, which included the now-traditional WiSci chocolate brownies, was a great opportunity to continue the conversations from the seminar and to meet people both from inside and outside the sciences.

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