To celebrate the international Day of Women and Girls in Science, we sit down with three women in the MIA making headway in science: A school student, a university student and a woman with a long distinguished career working in various science fields.
In order to achieve full access, more participation and gender equality in science for women and girls, the United Nations General Assembly declared February 11 as the International Day of Women and Girls in Science.
Senior Research Fellow Wendy Quayle is living in Griffith, and is currently working for Deakin University on cotton production systems in southern NSW, looking at optimising water and nitrogen management and helping farmers in Cambodia diversify into irrigated dry-season crops to increase household incomes.
“The work here at Deakin University’s Centre for Regional and Rural Futures in Griffith has been really rewarding and it’s great to see it have impact and the knowledge we discover being used in the community,” Ms Quayle said.
Ms Quayle started working at the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge, England and spent three summers in Antarctica studying the impacts of climate change and was published in ‘Science’ – one of the world’s top journals, and then moved into applied science, starting in Australian Agricultural Science.
Johanna Wordsworth is Griffith born and raised, and is the only female currently studying a Bachelor of Nanoscience (Honours) at University of NSW, which is the study of materials and phenomena on the nanometre scale – one-billionth of a metre.
“I have always had a strong interest in science since my early high school years, which I believe stemmed from having passionate, supportive science teachers,” Johanna said.
“At the beginning of year 12, I was also fortunate enough to be selected to attend the National Youth Science Forum (NYSF) held in Perth. It was an incredible opportunity to be able to meet other students who were interested in science and be able to experience new areas of science and how they can relate to real world applications.”
Chevaughn Moore, a Leeton High School Student was recently awarded Victor Chang school science award at Junee High School, and seeing influential women around her has cemented her desire to pursue a career in Science.
“I would see these women and here them talk about all the work they had done and the passion they had for their fields, and I thought, that’s exactly what I want to do,” Chevaughn said.
Chevaughn said that she can see how some fields like maths and some sciences tend to be represented as more stereo-typically male, however said that isn’t a barrier to her chasing her dream career.
And while both Ms Quayle and Johanna can see and have experienced the divide between men and women in the science fields, they say nothing can hold back determination.
Ms Quayle said early in her career, she felt challenged by what she felt was preferential treatment from senior male academics with preferences given towards her male peers on promotions.
“In academia there was a lot of male domination as the old guard tended to hold onto how it was for them as that is how they keep control. In Australia, I think I have mainly put myself in positions that have given me a lot of opportunity more than challenges and have been judged on my work. I have been given a leg up by a couple of very senior scientists, male and female which has really helped and I think everyone needs that at some time,” Ms Quayle said.
For Johanna, she is the only female in her small cohort, however found that her classes in sciences like biology and chemistry have equal numbers of males and females, while physics and math classes are still male - dominated.
“I have never experienced any major setbacks while studying, but I have found that due to a lack of confidence I do push myself more than my peers in order to prove to myself that I deserve to be there and to be considered equal to my peers.”
Ms Quayle encourages young women interested in science to be confident about their ability, be ahead of their time, and to just go for it.
“We are living in a society that has never been more tolerant and I think the next few years is really their time and it is themselves who will make more change and more rapid change,” Ms Quayle said.
“Male friends and colleagues should be supportive and put value on having interesting, experienced, savvy female counterparts who can pose a good challenging discussion and be respected and well regarded in the workplace. Agriculture is in a good phase as I see a much better balance of young dynamic clever, confident women as well as men in positions that are going to have a lot of influence over the next couple of decades, so its very encouraging.”
Johanna’s advice: Follow your dreams, don’t take and negativity, and draw inspiration from those around you to achieve your goals.
“Try to put yourself out there and find opportunities where you can experience the fields you are interested in first-hand, because the world needs more scientifically literate people, so if you have the passion and ability to study science then you would be crazy not to.”