Girls in science: challenges and achievements

Panel at Girls in Science
Leading researchers came together for a public conversation about women in science. Photo courtesy of Renae Ryan on Twitter (@renaemryan1).

To celebrate the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, University of Sydney academics came together at a public forum on 8 February to discuss women in science.

Held at the Westmead Institute for Medical Research, the event featured several leading and emerging biomedical scientists, who discussed the challenges and achievements of women in science while highlighting the need for an end to gender bias.

Each academic shared their perspectives and experiences regarding career paths in science, instances of bias and how to overcome it, the future of the scientific workforce, and why women make great scientists.

They also reflected on some of the inspiring scientific achievements accomplished by women in science at Westmead.

Professor Louise Baur, Associate Dean and Head of The Children’s Hospital at Westmead Clinical School, said she’s always been a “science nerd” and was encouraged to pursue a career in science by her parents.

“My sister and I grew up in a household where it was just natural to talk about science. Our parents strongly encouraged us and supported us to follow our interests.

“I know that for many girls at our local girls high school this was definitely not the case in the 1970s. There were a range of social barriers that stopped girls from choosing science as a career but I ended up studying medicine and my sister, veterinary science,” said Professor Baur.

Professor Clara Chow, Co-director of the Charles Perkins Centre, Westmead, and a cardiologist at Westmead Hospital, said women have many strengths suited to a career in science.

“In addition to an enquiring mind; patience and attention to detail are important attributes in scientists, and for many women these are strengths,” said Professor Chow.

Professor Heiko Spallek, Pro-Dean Faculty of Dentistry said there needs to be continued efforts to support and promote female academics.

“Given past discrimination of women in science and the still prevailing gender stereotypes, we need to do everything to nurture female academics. We try to redress the gender gap at mid and senior level academics in dentistry by providing extra programs like the Sydney Women’s Mentoring Program or the Strategic Promotion Advice and Mentoring Program.

“I would like to see my daughters growing up in a society that recognises the achievements of individuals regardless of their gender, race or ethnic background,” said Professor Spallek.

The speakers included:

Professor Louise Baur AM Associate Dean and Head, The Children’s Hospital at Westmead Clinical School, University of Sydney; Professor of Child and Adolescent Health

Professor Tania Sorrell AM Director, Marie Bashir Institute for Infectious Diseases and Biosecurity, Deputy Dean and Head, Westmead Clinical School, University of Sydney; Director, Centre for Infectious Diseases and Microbiology, The Westmead Institute for Medical Research

Professor Clara Chow Charles Perkins Centre Westmead Academic Co-director, University of Sydney; Program Director, Community Based Cardiac Services and Cardiologist, Westmead Hospital

Associate Professor Hilda Pickett Associate Professor, Medicine, University of Sydney; Head of the Telomere Length Regulation Unit at Children’s Medical Research Institute

Dr Tegan Cheng Conjoint Associate Lecturer, Discipline of Child and Adolescent Health, Sydney Medical School, and Conjoint Associate Lecturer, School of Aerospace, Mechanical and Mechatronic Engineering, University of Sydney

Professor Heiko Spallek Professor and Pro-Dean of Faculty of Dentistry; Gender Diversity and Inclusion Champion for the Faculty of Dentistry, University of Sydney.