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Sydney scientists named as 'Superstars of STEM' for 2019

11 December 2018
Changing social assumptions about gender in science
Science & Technology Australia has named Dr Caroline Moul, Dr Georgia Ward-Fear and Dr Iona Novak for its stereotype-busting program that is helping to change the public's views on women in science.

Dr Caroline Moul and Dr Georgia Ward-Fear, researchers in the Faculty of Science at the University of Sydney, have been named as Superstars of STEM for 2019 by Science & Technology Australia, a peak body for Australian science.

The organisation also named Dr Iona Novak, Head of Research at the Cerebral Palsy Alliance as a Superstar of STEM. The Cerebral Palsy Alliance is based at the University of Sydney's Brain and Mind Centre.

The Superstars of STEM program is designed to change society’s gender assumptions about scientists and increase the public visibility of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines.

Science & Technology Australia launched the program last year to create a critical mass of highly visible female scientists as role models for young women and girls, and to work towards equal representation in the media of women and men working in STEM fields.

Dr Moul and Dr Ward-Fear were both thrilled to be named on Tuesday morning by the Federal Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, the Hon Karen Andrews.

Dr Moul is an experimental psychologist who recently appeared as a commentator and scientific adviser for Network Ten’s The Secret Life of 4 Year Olds.

Her research interests are in the biological mechanisms and cognitive processes underlying the development of personality traits that can be disadvantageous, such as callous-unemotional traits and anxiety.

Dr Moul said: “I got into science because I wanted to do something that could make a positive difference. A big part of that, for me, is communicating my research and sharing knowledge.

“People tend to have a lot of misconceptions about psychology – I am excited to have the opportunity to try to change that through the Superstars of STEM program.”

Dr Ward-Fear is a conservation scientist, reptile biologist and explorer. From a young age, watching David Attenborough investigate the mysteries of nature had her hooked on investigating them herself.

Through interdisciplinary research, she seeks innovative conservation solutions by asking counterintuitive questions like: Can pest species be ecologically useful? Does traditional hunting increase prey resilience under environmental change? Instead of controlling harmful invasive species, can we ‘train’ the native animals they impact?

Last year Dr Ward-Fear helped establish the Cane Toad Coalition, a strategic partnership between conservation groups, Indigenous and cultural organisations, and government.

She said: “I feel privileged to be selected for this program and to represent the talented women in STEM across Australia.

“I will share my passion for wildlife conservation with budding scientists and show young women that these days we can live a wild existence, get dirty, ride quad bikes and study reptiles while making meaningful contributions to science and the planet.”

The Dean of Science at the University of Sydney, Professor Iain Young, congratulated Dr Moul and Dr Ward-Fear.

“It is vital that young women and girls have great role models in science and I can think of none better than Caroline and Georgia.

“Knowing about your discipline is one thing; researching and teaching science with depth are higher skills altogether. Caroline and Georgia are stars at both and it’s great to see this acknowledgement from Science & Technology Australia.”

Dr Iona Novak.

Dr Iona Novak.

Dr Iona Novak from the Cerebral Palsy Alliance is an Honorary Professor at the University of Sydney.

She said: "My work is not something I do, it is who I am. I am honoured to be part of the Superstars of STEM program to: engage, grow and catalyse the next generation of talented Australian women in STEM; communicate the cause of cerebral palsy research with influence; and tell science stories that resonate with the public, government and philanthropy.

"Our research shows that the incidence of cerebral palsy has fallen by 30 percent, from raising awareness and funding talented researchers. I know that giving a voice to the voiceless matters."

Another six of the Superstars of STEM women for 2019 are postgraduate alumni of the University of Sydney. Since graduating from our university they have gone on to develop wonderful careers in STEM. Congratulations to Dr Helen SalourosDr Kalinda GriffithsDr Kudzai KanhutuDr Lizzy LoweDr Charis Teh and Dr Teresa Wozniak.

The Superstars of STEM program was launched in 2017 with 30 women. For this year, 60 women technologists and scientists were announced by Minister Andrews.

The President of Science & Technology Australia, Professor Emma Johnston, said: “When we launched the program last year, I said that the stereotypical scientist was viewed as an old man in a white coat.

“Thanks to the first 30 Superstars of STEM, this is starting to change and with 60 more announced today, we will be well on our way to permanently smashing the stereotype.”

Professor Johnston said each participant will connect with hundreds of school children; feature in local, national and international media; and serve as a representative for their work, their discipline and their sector.


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