Posts Tagged ‘women in science’

From shadow, into the sun

In March 2017 on March 6, 2017 at 5:30 pm

Photo thanks to thomasrousing/flickr

Anna: As a researcher, one could complain about a number of things. Grant season in is full flight and there are more and more applications for less and less funding, fake news and hyperbole seems to rule over facts and figures and …did I mention lack of job security?!

As a researcher and woman, one could feel even more pessimistic about the future. As far as dollars go,  NHMRC 2016 funding outcomes highlight the divide between women and men*, there are reduced travel and networking opportunities if you have family commitments and then there is the all-pervasive unconscious bias knocking you back, without you or your colleagues even noticing.

Hidden Figures”, nominated for Best Picture at the recent Academy Awards and based on the book of the same name by Margot Lee Shetterly, reveals the challenges that faced 3 mathematicians working for NASA in the 1950’s and 60’s. They were women and they were African American. The bias wasn’t unconscious or hidden or casual. At this time – in the state of Virginia, and thus NASA’s Langley headquarters –  segregation laws were enforced. The bias was out there in the open, all day, every day. These women had constant social and professional roadblocks just because of the colour of their skin (and gender).

When I saw the film, I immediately thought of someone else who worked away in the shadows and described as “The Dark Lady of DNA” – Rosalind Franklin. She too was a researcher. She too was a woman. She too was a minority (Jewish in an anti-Semitic Britain in the early 1900’s). She too was an inspirational ‘hidden figure’. Here, in discovery of the structure of DNA (for which Watson and Crick won a noble prize).

So as I finalise my 2017 fellowship application in between breastfeeds and childcare pick-ups, I hope I, and many other (probably more deserved) women can step out of the shadows, get funded, do inspirational research and continue to break down the roadblocks.

*Across all funding schemes, applications with a male CIA received almost double the budget as applications with a female CIA 


On International Women’s Day, free me from ‘should’

In March 2016 on March 8, 2016 at 1:03 pm


Sarah: ‘Should’. What a terrible word, huh.

You should be eating more greens.

You should get more sleep.

You should exercise more.

All these ‘shoulds’ haunt me! And maybe you as well. Many of us aim to live a life shaped by evidence and best practise.

Research tells us that a healthy body needs regular exercise, plenty of vegetables and fruit, minimal processed carbohydrates and 8 hours sleep a night.

Psychological and pedagogical studies report on best approaches for guiding literacy, optimal amounts of exercise and screen time for children, improving resilience, and managing homework and chores.

Mental health resources compile evidence on juggling the demands of family, work and other commitments, and the need for downtime.

All up, sometimes life feels like a constant battle between all the shoulds.

It would actually be a hell of a lot easier to eat fish and chips every night. To have the TV on from sun-up ’til sun-down. To dump gym memberships and early morning sports practises. To let the kids order their lunch every day.

We all know that’s not ideal. But for goodness sake, let’s also feel OK about offloading a few ‘shoulds’ every now and again.

So today is International Woman’s Day. To celebrate, I’m having a break from a few ‘shoulds’.

You should too.

[image thanks to]

National Science Week. It’s on!

In August 2014 on August 15, 2014 at 10:25 am

kirsti Nat Sci Wk selfie

Kirsti: It’s on people!

Although it’s officially National Science Week next week, things are hotting up right now. And for me, it’s going to be rather big relative to other years. For I admit that despite being a scientist and having science in my life every day….I hardly ever went to National Science Week events.

Really. Hardly ever.

Partly this was because I was swanning around remote tropical islands learning about ants (and beer), and then because I had two small children that didn’t make going out very amenable (I think I did go out a few times….) or because I was just too tired, or whatever. I couldn’t even tell you why for most years, but I do know that the islands I worked on didn’t have a National Science Week agenda.

But this year has got me thinking about why it’s important to even have a National Science Week. Not a day, like “National Tree Day”, or “Clean Up Australia Day”, “World Wetlands Day” even though I kinda think these days should be every day. No, we have a whole week of celebrating science.

Here’s why I think it’s important:

1. Questions and answers matter
We all start out as natural scientists; curious, in awe of the world around us. All of it. We ask questions from the moment we can talk and learn so so much in the first decade of our lives that it’s almost incomprehensible there’s more to learn once you leave school! But many people lose that capacity to ask questions. Or maybe it’s decreasing desire to ask questions….or both over time (for various reasons, don’t get me started). I think it is an essential human virtue – to continue asking questions, and find answers to them with a method we know has stood the test of time, ego, funding, politics and scepticism. A national week to remind us of this is good.

2. Gratitude for how we live
Without science, technology and engineering (including medical), we would not enjoy anything like the standards of living and life expectancies we do today in the western world. I am so incredibly grateful for this that, in my books anyway, a week of celebrating it doesn’t come close to the gratitude we should have!

3. Fun times!
There are a plethora of extraordinarily fun, adventurous, exciting, brain bending and joyful things that you can do with science, so this is your chance to do them! Anything!

4. Opportunities in education
Some schools (particularly primary schools) don’t do much science, if any. National Science Week therefore is THE most important week of their year! Where art and music get special teachers and often equipment and instruments, science is left to individual teachers with the confidence to do hands on experiments with meagre supplies. Even if it’s a video conference link up to open their eyes to what is possible, this week in the year can facilitate that.

5. Science needs women
Women are dropping out of our STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) system after graduate research studies at alarming rates. Australia – and other countries – need a kick up the rear end to keep brilliant researchers of all types in work and ensure a well-informed, coherent and sustainable future. National Science Week reminds of us this too, and this year a Wikibomb about female scientists has done this in style.

So Happy National Science Week peeps.

Check out the website for an event near you and try and get to one of the amazing events around the country.

Totes bushranger

In July 2014 on July 15, 2014 at 2:57 pm


Sarah: Kirsti and I went totes bushranger this school holidays.

Under the pseudonyms Blood Thirsty Kirsty and Saltrock Sarah, and accompanied by miscellaneous children and other family members, we explored Uralla in New South Wales.

Uralla is the home of the famed bushranger Captain Thunderbolt; the image above shows the table on which his body was displayed after being shot dead by a local policeman.

Now everyone loves a good bushranger story. But Kirsti and I were also very interested to learn about Thunderbolt’s partner Mary Ann Bugg. Some reports suggest that Mary Ann was the brains behind Thunderbolt’s success, as she planned, scoped, read and wrote on her man’s behalf.

It’s a theme scientists are already familiar with – woman plods away in the background, then man comes along and performs a daring exciting final move and gets all the credit.

Perhaps I’m being a little cranky, but we all know the story of Rosalind Franklin. And there are more cases of a similar nature.

We can’t change history, but let’s bring a few more ladies forward and get them robbing stage coaches, huh? There’s a bit of mongrel bushranger in all of us, regardless of gender.


Day 348. Happy birthday Rosalind

In July 2013 on July 25, 2013 at 11:39 am


Today would have been scientist Rosalind Franklin’s 93rd birthday. She died in 1958, a victim of ovarian cancer at only the age of 38.

Rosalind is best known for her groundbreaking studies in the use of X-ray diffraction – a kind of early imaging technology – to study biological molecules, including viruses. In the early 1950s, Rosalind created unique diffraction images which hinted at the then-unknown structure of DNA. Yet she was not acknowledged in Watson and Crick’s world-changing 1953 publication describing DNA’s double-helix molecular arrangement, despite the fact that the two men had viewed her images and clearly used them to further their own advancing theories.

Rosalind was apparently a remarkably clever and driven woman, with a passion not only for science but also for languages, travel and hiking.

Thanks to Mia Cobb, this morning I was alerted to the following phrases from Rosalind at age 20, taken from a letter to her father in 1940:

“Science and everyday life cannot and should not be separated.

Science, for me, gives a partial explanation of life. In so far as it goes, it is based on fact, experience, and experiment.

In my view, all that is necessary for faith is the belief that by doing our best we shall come nearer to success and that success in our aims (the improvement of the lot of mankind, present and future) is worth attaining.”

These words fit perfectly into my Science for Life philosophy.

Happy birthday Rosalind.

You can read more about Rosalind Franklin in Brenda Maddox’s excellent biography Rosalind Franklin The Dark Lady of DNA

[image thanks to Droid Gingerbread on flickr]