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Women making an impact in STEMM

13 August 2018
Insights and advice from our researchers
Across the University of Sydney, our female researchers are breaking new ground - and the glass ceiling - in their fields. In celebrating National Science Week (11-19 August), we asked some inspiring women about succeeding in STEMM.

Professor Stephanie Watson

Professor Stephanie Watson is a clinician researcher and innovator. Head of ‘Eye Innovation’ at the Save Sight Institute and a University of Sydney School of Medicine Foundation Fellow, Professor Watson is known for her groundbreaking research in corneal therapies, having recently developed a next-generation sealant for eye wounds.

What advice would you give to a young woman starting a career in STEMM?

STEMM is an exciting and rewarding vocation for women. We can transform lives by discovering and applying knowledge to complex problems. At times the journey can seem long, but in my experience the different paths you take and what you learn along the way is the most interesting part of all.

What is the impact of your research?

I use research to bring innovation into the eye clinic, preventing vision loss and restoring sight. I also teach and mentor the next generation of eye experts, clinicians and scientists. Both priorities are impactful because the burden of eye disease in Australia and across the world is growing. My career has made a difference to the lives of people, and this is something I’m very proud of.


Dr Nicky Ringland

Dr Nicky Ringland is a Computing Education Specialist at the Australian Computing Academy and Outreach Officer at the National Computer Science School. She completed her PhD in Computer Science at the University of Sydney and is a co-founder of Grok Learning, an online learning platform that teaches coding and technology to school children.

Why is gender equity important to you?

Diverse teams are better at problem solving, make better decisions, and create better products, but diversity improves the entire ecosystem as well as individual teams. The Science Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) program is a tangible commitment by universities to promote gender equity in STEMM education. 

What, in terms of gender equity, would you like to see happen in your field/industry?

We need more stories being told of what technology – and particularly women in technology – can achieve. Careers in tech give you the power to quite literally change the world. The path to curing cancer doesn't just involve pipettes and microscopes; it also involves a lot of code – as does combating climate change and getting to Mars.


Associate Professor Tara Murphy

Associate Professor Tara Murphy is an astrophysicist and ARC Future Fellow at the University of Sydney. Her main research interests are in radio transients and variables, and she runs an edtech business, Grok Learning, that provides coding courses for high schools and universities.

What, in terms of gender equity, would you like to see happen in your field/industry?

Modern science involves big groups and collaborations – people working together to tackle challenges. I would like to see more explicit recognition that we need people with a diverse range of skills, including communication, organisational and interpersonal skills. These skills aren’t secondary; they are critical for modern science to succeed.

Who’s your favourite female fictitious character and why?

It has to be Jane Eyre, for the enormous impact that book had on my 12-year-old self. She was a person with strong convictions who didn’t accept the way things were and (within the constraints of the time) she found her own path to happiness.


Dr Kathryn Williams

Dr Kathryn Williams is an endocrinologist, Senior Lecturer at the University of Sydney School of Medicine and the Adult Clinical Lead for the newly-established Family Obesity Services in the Nepean-Blue Mountains Local Health District. Her research interests lie in the areas of diabetes and metabolic health.

What advice would you give to a young woman starting a career in STEMM?

Don’t talk yourself down (as many women tend to do to avoid sounding too ambitious); you will start to believe it. Recognise when you are doing it and stop – this will make you feel stronger and more capable.

What is the impact of your research?

I am the clinical lead for a fantastic team who are in the process of developing the program for the whole of the lifespan tertiary obesity service (Nepean Family Metabolic Health Service, formerly Nepean Family Obesity Service). This service will be the platform for equitable care for those with obesity in Western Sydney (giving patients the confidence to take their lives back), for advocacy and for translational research, through collaboration with the Charles Perkins Centre in particular.


Professor Clara Chow

Professor Clara Chow is a Professor at Sydney Medical School and Academic Director of the Westmead Applied Research Centre and Program Director Community Based Cardiac Services and Cardiologist at Westmead Hospital. Her research focuses on simple and scalable approaches to cardiovascular disease prevention both in Australia and globally.

Why is gender equity important to you?

I think it recognises the role and contribution of women in science but also importantly inspires and encourages other women to contribute to science.

What, in terms of gender equity, would you like to see happen in your field/industry?

Probably just more discussion about it – how it impacts or doesn’t impact on our work, teams and outcomes. I work in two different areas: in cardiology, where about 12% of cardiologists are women; and in public/prevention research, where I have a research team which is probably more than 80% women. I am not exactly sure why this is like this, but I do think balance is always important.


Rebecca Chen

Rebecca Chen is an Associate Lecturer in oral health therapy at the Sydney Dental School. In line with her discipline of teaching, Rebecca’s research focuses on oral health literacy and the attitudes and behaviours of university students towards sugar-sweetened beverages.

What is the impact of your research?

I started as a clinician with further training in public health and have been led to focus my interests in the implementation of technology to improve prevention-focused patient outcomes. I’ve just started my PhD and I’m keen to discover how mobile health technologies will improve patient outcomes in the paediatric dental public health settings.

What, in terms of gender equity, would you like to see happen in your field/industry?

I think there have been some positive changes in our profession – our dental school is supportive of women in the field with annual events like the Women in Dentistry event. It would be great to see more women progress further in their careers; I have many female supervisors and senior colleagues who are amazing and I would love to see them continue to grow in their pursuits.

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