When women in STEMM meet Parliament

Science meets Parliament is an event to connect the minds of science and government to promote the positive progression of science for Australia’s future. 2017 marks the 18th time this event was held and Women in STEMM Australia was well represented with three members of the Executive attending – regional Queensland science teacher Ms Sarah Chapman, Western Australian engineer and educator Dr Sally Male, and Victorian Group Leader and materials scientist Associate Professor Madhu Bhaskaran. They each wanted to share their experience!

Sarah Chapman

Sarah Chapman cropIt was a fantastic opportunity to attend such an extraordinary event where exceptional science professionals take over Parliament House and connect with government, to highlight the importance of science for a positive and productive future.

It was an honour to attend Science meets Parliament as a representative of the Women in STEMM Australia’s executive and also as the first science teacher to attend the event. It was of utmost importance to me to advocate for science education being a vital component of key science events such as Science meets Parliament, to not only promote the profile of science education but shape policy development of STEM and to publicly promote that science, innovation and teaching of science are important contributors to Australian economic, social and environmental well-being.

Day One was all about communication and our message. We heard from leaders in the science communication field who provided key aspects to the refinement of our individual message behind our scientific research. Advocacy and clear positive messaging are so essential in science. This is what shapes everything from public perception, policy and investment in future research. The last session of the day was about refining our pitch, preparing for our meeting with a key politician the following day. This stretched our minds and communicating capabilities to take our two minute pitch to one minute, 30 seconds, followed by finally 15 seconds. The objective, to receive feedback and refine the key messages in our pitch.

Day One concluded with a spectacular Gala Dinner. The MC for the night was the fabulous ABC Science, science communicator Bernie Hobbs, who added a bit of humour to the debate between Hon Bill Shorten MP and Hon Arthur Sinodinos MP about the future of science in Australia. The Gala Dinner was a great event to network and meet representatives from the spectrum of government and science.

Day Two started with a spark of inspiration from Australian of the Year Prof Alan Mackay-Smith. This lead to the moment to utilise our refined pitch and meet with a parliamentarian. I had been designated a meeting with Tanya Plibesek MP, Deputy Opposition Leader. She was keen to discuss science education. It was an absolute highlight to meet such an accomplished, confident and articulate female who had such keen interest for science education. I was able to share with her information about Women in STEMM Australia, and the excellent work we do. I was also able to share my passion for science education and my International STEM Fellowship report launch. It was great to share the meeting with highly esteemed and passionate scientists, with a similar vision.

It was wonderful to meet Bill Shorten MP and Karen Andrews MP, who both had visited my school in 2015. It was good to reconnect and share my continued passion for science and science education. I also connected with Dr Tim O’Meara from GE Healthcare, who was able to share years of expertise, and Dr Jenine Beekhuyzen from Tech Girls Movement who is a true inspiration for all her work engaging girls in STEM. I also really enjoyed meeting A/Prof Alan Duffy, Astrophysicist and science communicator, who shared his passion about connecting people at home with science. Our common passion for engaging people with STEM lead to collaborating on an article for ABC Online about STEM engagement in Australia that following week.

Thank you to Women in STEMM Australia for the opportunity to attend this event.

Sally Male

sally maleI was delighted to meet amazing scientists including the people In charge of satellite dishes, AARNET, and medical research. It was a privilege to meet Mr Graham Perrett MP with a keen group of four scientists, each with important research disciplines, and all sharing common concerns. Our messages were about women in science, STEM teachers in schools, and the need for employers to support work integrated learning.

I am on the SAGE Athena Swan Self-Assessment Team (SAT) at The University of Western Australia. It was inspiring to meet Professor Brian Schmidt, Vice Chancellor of Australian National University, and hear of his commitment to SAGE Athena Swan. It was also a buzz to share shocks and achievements with  members of SAGE Athena SWAN SATs from other universities.

I experienced an epiphany when a male academic whom I met at SMP explained that when he started his postdoc he stated clearly to the Head of School that if he (the then postdoc) was still on short term contracts after 5 years he was leaving, and the strategy was successful. Since SMP I reported this to a group of female research-intensive staff from all levels at my university. All were surprised and a male permanent professor who was with us at the time confirmed that this negotiation at the time of appointment is as people should and indeed most men do.

Madhu Bhaskaran

Madhu

I was pleased to be representing Women in STEMM Australia at Science meets Parliament this year. Having never met a politician before, I was excited to have the opportunity to interact with them and explain my research as well as my passion for other gender balance in STEMM to them. Day 1 proved to be a good experience to hear a couple of interesting presentations and also practise explaining our research in layman terms and in 2 minutes or lesser. But it was most inspiring to meet other equally enthusiastic scientists and network with them and exchange stories. The dinner at Parliament House was a definite highlight and while entertaining, also proved to be another valuable networking opportunity. It was particularly pleasing to see that the political leaders who took part in a debate were very much across all issues which affect early and mid career researchers such as career stability, short term contracts, impact of breaks, and gender issues.

Day 2 at Parliament House began with a session with the Australian of the Year Professor Alan Mackay-Sim and it was inspiring to hear his words on what makes him excited about science and how his discoveries were made. Parliament House in itself is a wonderful place to be – we rubbed shoulders with people aged from 6 to 80 (school kids to war veterans). My meeting with Gai Brodtmann MP was with a group of four scientists and it was very satisfying to pass on our messages on research in future sensor technology, cyber security, defence applications and more common themes such as gender and the need to promote science and outcomes to the Australian public.

It was two full days of learning and networking and it was fantastic to have a lot of insightful discussions and a bag full of business cards!

To learn more about Science meets Parliament visit Science & Technology Australia.


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