UNSW cancer researcher Dr Caroline Ford is among the first 30 female scientists and technologists to be named Superstars of STEM, in a national program aimed at smashing stereotypes and forging a new generation of role models for young women and girls.
Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science, Senator Arthur Sinodinos, announced the successful candidates at an event at Mrs Macquarie’s Chair launched by UNSW Dean of Science Professor Emma Johnston.
More than 300 women vied for a spot in the inaugural Superstar program, run by Science and Technology Australia. Winners will receive training and development to use social media, TV, radio and public speaking opportunities to carve out a more diverse face for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
“Superstars of STEM is the first program of its kind and will prove vital for the future of STEM in Australia,” said Professor Johnston, who is President-Elect of Science and Technology Australia.
“Often, when you ask someone to picture or draw a scientist, they immediately think of an old man with white hair and a lab coat. We want Australian girls to realise there are some amazing, capable and impressive women working as scientists and technologists too, and they work in and out of the lab in places you might not expect.
“Science and technology have made our lives longer, happier, healthier and more connected. With more girls considering STEM careers, we have the potential to achieve so much more,” she said.
Senator Sinodinos said that only one in four IT graduates and fewer than one in 10 engineering graduates are women. Women also occupy fewer than 20 per cent of senior research positions in Australian universities and research institutes.
“Science and Technology Australia’s Superstars of STEM program – a world first – will support and train these outstanding women to become prominent role models, promoting gender equity and inspiring more young women and girls to choose to study and work in STEM,” he said.
“I commend the significant commitment of these outstanding women for playing this important leadership role. Australia needs greater gender balance in the overall STEM workforce, where women occupy less than half of all positions.”
The successful applicants work in areas including archaeology, robotics, medicine, education, psychology, neuroscience, agriculture, mathematics and engineering. They come from almost every state and territory and work in public, academic and private sectors.
Dr Ford leads the Metastasis Research Group at the Lowy Cancer Research Centre at UNSW, whose aim is to understand how cancers metastasise or spread and identify targets for novel therapies.
She has extensive experience researching the molecular biology of breast and ovarian cancer and she also developed a massive open online course, or MOOC, on the impact of the genetic revolution on wider society, which has attracted more than 20,000 students from 158 countries in the past two years.
Other Superstars of STEM announced today include Director of the Australian Museum Research Institute Dr Rebecca Johnson, Bureau of Meteorology Chief Scientist Dr Sue Barrell and evolutionary scientist Dr Celine Frere of the University of the Sunshine Coast, who gained her PhD from UNSW.
The initiative was supported by a grant of $178,500 over two years from the Australian Government’s $8 million Women in STEM and Entrepreneurship competitive grants program.