An Introduction by Prof. Emma Johnston AO

Dean of Science and Professor of Marine Ecology and Ecotoxicology at UNSW Sydney

I am very happy to introduce the UNSW Women in Maths and Science Champions Program blog. A blog written by women who chose to study maths and science in high school, and who, whether they realised it at the time or not, opened the door to the cornucopia of career opportunities that now await them.

The women writing this blog are stereotype-busting PhD research students and early career scientists. The fact remains that these women are in the minority and many girls still avoid studying advanced maths and physics. Often, they perceive these subjects as too hard. But we know that there is no difference in aptitude between girls and boys for these subjects. Indeed, a recent study led by one of our own PhD Champions suggested that the top 10% of a STEM class contains equal numbers of boys and girls. So why do the majority of young children draw scientists as male?

Children are observant. They pick up on how scientists are portrayed around them—on television, on the news—as being overwhelmingly male. As such, we have young girls adopting the false belief that they cannot be good at maths before they have even encountered a times table. We need to change this by providing role models so that girls can see female scientists and mathematicians, not as the exception, but as the norm in society.

The UNSW Women in Maths and Science Champions Program is an initiative designed to facilitate this change.  By providing female research students and early career scientists with the skills and confidence, to become visible scientists and science advocates, and to make a positive impact to the broader community as lifelong advocates for women in maths and science. They are researchers and technical officers, working in diverse areas ranging from coral reefs to quantum computing, from mating strategies to photovoltaic devices, from catalysts to clusters of galaxies. And they are connecting directly with girls and women, embracing their position as public role models.

As I often say, and as I told the Champions when the Program launched in November 2018, you cannot be what you cannot see. I invite the visitors to this blog, to follow these female scientists and mathematicians. To be inspired by their outreach. To read about their exciting research. To get some of your science news from them. To learn from them. And to share widely their stories, so that one day soon, it is not just the stories of a few women in science and maths that we occasionally come across, but it is scientists and mathematicians of any gender that we see on television and on the news, and that young children draw…and imagine that they can be.

Follow Prof. Emma Johnston AO on Twitter