For the first time, a Women in Science dinner & discussion forum took place on the 28th of September 2014 at Teatro Vivaldi on ANU Campus. This event, held in conjunction with ComBio2014, was to provide an opportunity for students and early career scientists to network with more senior female researchers in an atmosphere of sharing, cooperation and support. The event was organized & facilitated by Dr Anne-Sophie Dielen, assisted by Drs Britta Forster and Elena Martin-Avila. The three hour discussion and social gathering was attended by 70 (predominantly) female scientists and students.
The event was made possible thanks to the very generous financial support of several co-sponsors: the ARC Centre of Excellence for Translational Photosynthesis, the University of Canberra, the Australian Society of Plant Scientists, the ANU Gender Institute, the Centre of Excellence for Plant Energy Biology, the Australian Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and Nectar (ANU’s Early Career Scientists and Academics association).
The event proved extremely popular and was attended by 24 students, 32 early-career scientists and 14 senior scientists.
A highlight of the evening was the discussion forum comprised of six female scientists from all over Australia. The panellists were:
- Dr Margaret Barbour (University of Sydney),
- Dr Rachel Burton (University of Adelaide),
- Dr Adele Holloway (University of Tasmania).
- Dr Helen Irving (Monash University),
- Dr Martha Ludwig (University of Western Australia),
- Dr Sudha Rao (University of Canberra)
Each panellist introduced herself with a brief overview of her careers with emphasis on what it means for them to be female in science, how they cope and benefit. The panel discussion was limited to a little more than an hour but could have gone much longer as the audience was very enthusiastic and asked many questions. Discussions continued throughout the evening. The main issues attendees raised were about work/life balance, grant applications and mentoring.
The panellists agreed unanimously that balancing the workload of an early/middle career in science with family life had been difficult, especially without extended family around. Several solutions were brought forward. For example, initiatives such as the Athena Swan charter were discussed. Rachel Burton highlighted ideas that could help women, such as allocating technical support for two years to women going on maternity leave. Helen Irving and Sudha Rao confirmed that both NHMRC and ARC committees take career disruption such as maternity leave in serious consideration while reviewing grant applications. Adele Holloway and Martha Ludwig told attendees that, more than mentors, they need champions or advocates, people who will make them aware of opportunities and push them forward because women tend to wait too long before asking for promotion. All panellists strongly agreed that things are starting to change but also that broader changes are required and that a career in science is very challenging, particularly as a female.
Feedback from the event was extremely positive with 94% of attendees advising they would attend such an event again.
A full report on this event included pictures taken on the night is attached below.