Women of Influence and Young Science Communicators: Movers and Shakers of Our Future

Women of Influence and Young Science Communicators: Movers and Shakers of Our Future

The first celebrating New Zealand Women, a Fairfax Media and Westpac initiative, now it its second year, and the second New Zealand’s young science communicators in the Sir Paul Callaghan EUREKA! Awards, a Rotary initiative running now for three years. Professor Margaret Brimble, an Associate Investigator in the institute and based in the School of Chemical Sciences at the University of Auckland won the Innovation and Science category (http://www.westpac.co.nz/who-we-are/sustainability-and-community/contributing-to-our-communities/inspiring-leadership/woinz/2014-winners/) and Sam Hall-McMaster from the University of Otago won the MacDiarmid Institute sponsored scholarship and was also named as the overall winner (http://eureka.org.nz/). Nicola Gaston, VUW and Michelle Dickinson, UoA were also finalists in the Innovation and Science category at the Women of Influence Awards; so we had a pretty impressive showing from the institute at this celebration of women. It was a real privilege to be able to celebrate so many amazing women and young science communicators in a single week. Their personal stories and ambitions were both inspirational and humbling. What I think is more remarkable however is that the two events exist and that things have changed so dramatically in the past two decades. As a PhD student (yeah I know now some 20 years ago) in the Research School of Physical Sciences at ANU, female PhD students were essentially as good as it got. In my time there, there was for a period, one female post doc in the entire School (covering physics, engineering and some maths and chemistry) and maybe 10 female PhD students. France – a total anomaly, was literally awash with female scientists. At Princeton Physics it was, one might say slightly better than ANU, there were a couple of Assistant Professors – though no tenured staff and 5-10 post docs. But now at VUW in the School of Chemical and Physical Sciences we have 11 female academic members of staff in a school of 30+ academic staff. For me that is a spectacular transformation. I recognise that it isn’t mirrored everywhere – but the fact that there is even one occurrence of it in New Zealand – well that is quite something. Similarly, having a national competition that focuses on science communication by young people, WOW! That science communication is seen to be important enough not only to attract people’s attention (we have now for example the Science Media Centre, http://www.sciencemediacentre.co.nz/) but that it should be a focal point for a national competition and valued as an important skill for our young people and a possible career pathway, that is a dramatic change in a lifetime. To Margaret and Sam – congratulations – equally to Nicola and Michelle. To all my fellow female researchers around the country you are all an inspiration. Celebrate the women in your life. Celebrate the fact that science has really landed and people want to know about it and also build their careers as science communicators. Celebrate the amazing young people that we are fortunate to work with daily in our roles as educators. It is easy to think that not much has changed, but for me, the world looks completely different when I look around now and see who I get to work with and that is pretty awesome to see, experience and be part of. Teaching finishes today or next Friday around the country and we head into exams. This is a nice transition time of the year, particularly with Labour weekend coming up. Enjoy the weekend everyone. Kate