International Day of Women and Girls in Science 2022

February 11, 2022
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Blog

International Day of Women and Girls in Science 2022

Today, and every day, we celebrate the brilliant women and girls working in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics

February 11, 2022
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Today is the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. At Food Agility, we firmly believe all women and girls should have full and equal access to participating in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).

To mark the occasion, we spoke with some of Food Agility’s best and brightest about what they’re currently working on and what advice they’d give to women and girls either already in the industry, or eager to enter.

Clare Rutherford

Chief Operating Officer, Food Agility CRC

Can you start with a brief overview of your role, and how you got started working in the industry?

I’m very lucky to have a really varied role, working to support our team from both an administrative and strategy perspective to ensure we have funds and resources to invest in exciting data research projects! I look after our operations, with oversight over finance, people, and legal matters. I look after our outcome reporting to our major investors, which means I also get to dip into our portfolio of projects to look at the amazing innovation that is happening in creating new digital tools and services to improve food sustainability and productivity.

What are you currently working on?

We’ve had some exciting outcomes from a series of projects in the agricultural carbon and supply chain traceability spaces, so I’m currently looking at how we can articulate these insights into a new challenge set and bring in new partners who can help us solve even larger industry problems.

What do you hope to achieve over the next 12 months?

With my operational focus, my main goal is to ensure that we have a team who feel motivated and satisfied with their roles, and excited about the work that we’re undertaking! As a business, I want us to over-achieve on our goals to create new data-backed tools for Australia’s agri-food supply chain and improve the sustainability, quality, and productivity of our agricultural sector.  

Who would you like to give a shout out to today?

We have some incredibly inspiring women working in STEM in Australia and making waves globally! Dr Negin Shariati, founder of the RF and Communication Technologies facility at the University of Technology, Sydney is one great example. Negin and her team are working at the cutting edge of communication technology. She recently developed new sensor power technology which can harvest background radiation, essentially meaning the sensor can power itself indefinitely! You don’t have to look far in the Australian STEM community to find women who are changing the world.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

There is a lesson in everything! Early in my career, before I found an opportunity to work in my dream sector, I took a job as a sales assistant in a shop. I really felt like I was wasting my time, until a mentor told me to look for the lesson! I realised that it was an amazing environment to learn customer service and sales skills, which are skills that have been valuable to me in all my roles since then. Even if you feel like you’re not quite where you’re supposed to be, there are valuable lessons and experiences you can gain, just by changing your perspective.  

Finally, what advice would you give to women and girls seeking a career in STEM?

Be endlessly curious.  People are always excited to share what they’re doing, so ask questions, show your enthusiasm, and get involved wherever there are openings! There are so many opportunities in the STEM world, and you don’t necessarily have to be working directly in STEM to help. I love working in the operational side of STEM. I get to see incredible projects and work with inspiring people. When a project is successful, I love knowing that I had a hand in its success.  

Dr Negin Shariati

Sensing Innovations Constellation Leader at Food Agility CRC, Senior Lecturer at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), Co-Director - RF and Communication Technologies (RFCT) Laboratory

Can you start with a brief overview of your role, and how you got started working in the industry?

In 2016, I joined Faculty of Engineering and IT at UTS as an academic. I established the state-of-the-art RF and Communication Technologies (RFCT) research laboratory at UTS, where I’m currently the co-director and leading research and development in RF-Electronics, Sustainable Sensing, Low-power Internet of Things, and Energy Harvesting.

Being an academic means that I can combine a number of my passions: teaching, research and industry engagements. I’m also leading the Sensing Innovations Constellation at Food Agility CRC, enabling new innovations in agriculture technologies by focusing on three key interrelated streams that encompass the constraints in sensing technology: Sensing, Power and Connectivity.  

I’ve been always passionate about nature and conservation of the environment. This inspired me to do PhD about energy harvesting and sustainability, aiming to extend the operating time of sensors and reducing environmental pollution using green energy sources. Being a researcher/engineer created a unique opportunity for me to think outside the box and be creative.

What are you currently working on?

I am currently working with my team (PhD students and researchers) on a number of R&D projects within UTS and Food Agility CRC. My current research program is about developing new sensing technologies, which are low power, long lived, sustainable, secure, can operate autonomously, and can be integrated into larger systems through improved connectivity and timely data collection. Addressing such challenges will lead to the development of environmentally sustainable sensing technologies suitable for large scale deployment.

What do you hope to achieve over the next 12 months?

I hope to inspire and encourage more young females to seek ambitiously a future in STEM career.

Who would you like to give a shout out to today?

My mother! She is an inspirational figure and a great source of encouragement in my life. She also was a passionate and innovative educator during her career.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

There is not an endpoint for engineers, they’ll find a way, or they will build a new one.

Finally, what advice would you give to women and girls seeking a career in STEM?

Nowadays we face complex problems and I believe having a combination of men and women in engineering is the only way to solve these challenges. Women have some sets of natural abilities and skills which are essential in engineering. They see and analyse problems from a different angle and perspective. STEM is so broad, and women have endless opportunities.

My advice is to see challenges as opportunities to grow. I believe through difficulties you can achieve your full potential. There are number of elements which help to achieve success: hard work, dedication, motivation, passion, and being positive. When things don’t work out as you expect, don't give up, look on the bright side, believe in yourself and believe in what you are doing. Being passionate and having a positive can-do attitude will greatly help to overcome any challenges you experience during your journey in STEM.

Cassandra Chong

PhD candidate in Doctor of Philosophy – Environment and Agriculture at Curtin University

Can you start with a brief overview of your role, and how you got started working in the industry?

I am currently in my final year of PhD in Food Science at Curtin University. I first got into research when I was offered to do my honours in Food Science after completing my undergraduate degree also in Food Science and Technology. After my honours, I worked in the food industry as a quality assurance officer for a FMCG company for over a year and was then presented with the opportunity to come back into academia to pursue my PhD.

What are you currently working on?

My PhD project is a continuation of my honours project and is on Australian Acacia (wattle) seeds. The main aim of my PhD is to determine the key biochemical properties of different Australian Acacia seeds from various locations harvested from three consecutive years. Part of my project also looks at how species/location/harvest year differences may affect the biochemical properties I am studying.

What do you hope to achieve over the next 12 months?

I am aiming to finish my PhD first and foremost, but also publishing all my results into highly reputable journals with the hope of contributing new information to the food science field.

Who would you like to give a shout out to today?

Without a doubt, all my supervisors (Ranil Coorey, Nicholas George, Gary Dykes, Gavin Pereira and Dale Tilbrook) for their never-ending support and constructive feedback! I am not sure if I could have ever gotten this far without them.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Take things one day at a time because it is so easy for things to pile up and cloud our thinking.

Finally, what advice would you give to women and girls seeking a career in STEM?

Resilience, resilience, resilience AND don’t forget to take breaks when you deserve to WITHOUT feeling guilty.

Emma Leonard

Proprietor, AgriKnowHow

Can you start with a brief overview of your role, and how you got started working in the industry?

For over 25 years I have worked in communication and extension roles to help farming businesses access and implement the latest and most relevant new research, technology and management practices to support the development and sustainability of their businesses.

What are you currently working on?

Having recently submitted my PhD thesis, which was supported by the Food Agility CRC, I am now developing processes and applications in which to use the change management tools for digital agriculture, which I created as part of this research.

What do you hope to achieve over the next 12 months?

To relaunch my business AgriKnowHow. Prior to my PhD this business had worked with researcher funding bodies, researchers and farmer groups to communicate from the sources of new information to the potential users. The new aim is to take a ground up approach and to specialise in on-farm digitalisation and digital transformation by working with family farming business to help them adopt appropriate digital technologies for their specific requirements and to share their needs and wants with digital developers and resellers to ensure appropriate technology is available in the Australian market.

Who would you like to give a shout out to today?

Sir David Attenborough, the greatest science communicator and teacher around.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

You cannot do more than your best. When making a decision, always ask yourself, what will be the impact in 10 years time?

Finally, what advice would you give to women and girls seeking a career in STEM?

Do it. Everything is possible, and you will be the only one holding yourself back. Based on the ‘what will matter in 10 years time?’ question, what do you have to lose if you have a go? You will always gain something and only lose if you don’t try.

Dr Madeline Mitchell

Science lead, Carbon and Natural Capital research program at Food Agility CRC, Research Fellow at RMIT University.

Can you start with a brief overview of your role, and how you got started working in the industry?

I use my science knowledge and communication skills to build and contribute to projects in the Carbon & Natural Capital research program (pillar) at Food Agility. I was drawn to study plant sciences because I wanted to support the sustainability of agriculture and the rural and regional communities that rely on it. I now work beyond traditional plant sciences and am involved with projects in soil health, viticulture and livestock grazing systems.

What are you currently working on?

The aim of the pillar is to lead research to underpin and inform the evolution of the Australian carbon farming market as well as incentives and support for natural capital management on farms. We’ve just finished up a project with NAB to develop a tool to support farmer and banker decision making around sustainable agribusiness adaptation. I find it engaging and rewarding to be collaborating across sectors and to see the direct benefit of our projects for industry.

What do you hope to achieve over the next 12 months?

We’ve just started a project to devise tools to measure soil carbon accurately and affordably in Australian rangelands, unlocking 75% of the country’s landmass to reach its carbon sequestration potential. It’s a big, complex project and my role will be to coordinate the different science streams and ensure the project gets off to a flying start.

Who would you like to give a shout out to today?

I’d love to give a shout out to soil scientist Dr Samantha Grover, a colleague and friend at RMIT and fellow Superstar of STEM. Sam has written a children’s book and delivered a TEDx talk on the wonders of soil! I’m excited to be able to collaborate with her this year to support healthy soils and sustainable food production.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

We need to fix the system, not women (in STEM). This piece of advice has been reinforced from many sources, but I always associate it with my mentor at CSIRO, Dr Colleen MacMillan, a passionate and unstoppable advocate for inclusion of diversity and a super scientist who studies plant cell walls. We need to fix the system to include all forms of diversity and value contributions to STEM beyond the traditional metrics e.g. mentoring, educational training, community engagement. One of my Homeward Bound sisters co-authored a piece about this.

Finally, what advice would you give to women and girls seeking a career in STEM?

There are many opportunities and many ways to be successful and contribute to STEM and wider society. So, while it helps to have role models, don’t feel like you have to follow a similar path. Stay open and curious about your options and have fun along the way!

Stephanie Camarena

Director of Factor Ten, and Director of Source Agility

Can you start with a brief overview of your role, and how you got started working in the industry?

I have not yet fully resumed my roles as I am in the process of submitting my PhD thesis. In the past few years, I have been a management consultant, working both in sustainable design and in AI. I started working in the IT industry during the dotcom years, starting with multimedia communications then software and web development as a project manager then program director. In 2009, I went back to study in sustainability and started a consultancy to decarbonise business for which my clients earned several national and state awards.

What are you currently working on?

I am focusing on my PhD which is in many ways a reconciliation of both my passions in sustainability and in IT. My research is in AI in the transition to sustainable food systems and uses both the sustainable design principles and an array of AI disciplines and tools to transition food systems to innovative, agile, ethical and sustainable futures.

What do you hope to achieve over the next 12 months?

I am sure my thinking will become clearer as soon as I have submitted my PhD (this week!). But I have two main interests: continuing research in some form to further deepen the findings I have made for sustainable transitions and AI in different food systems; and consult to industry, bringing in 20 years of cutting-edge IT experience and over 12 of sustainable services and product design. Hopefully, the next 12 months will be about securing both.

Who would you like to give a shout out to today?

Timnit Gebru, the computer scientist who started the ethical AI at Google and is heading a movement towards change in the Big Tech industry on diversity in technology and ethical AI.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

There are no secrets. Anything that is worth it is hard work.

Finally, what advice would you give to women and girls seeking a career in STEM?

The need for diversity in tech is dire. Think about medicine and medical research over the past couple of centuries which have been gendered-biased, therefore under-researched and under-diagnosed for women. The same thing is happening with tech and AI. Algorithms which might be 95% accurate for white males, might be only 50% accurate for women because of the way the data is selected and used for training. We need many more women (and diverse backgrounds) to counter-balance what is currently setting us up towards unethical and unsustainable futures. There are amazing women in tech and joining the club means working in collaboration with extremely bright and innovative women. We need you!

Kristen Fernandes

PhD Candidate (Food Agility Top-up Scholarship Recipient)

Can you start with a brief overview of your role, and how you got started working in the industry?

I am a PhD candidate studying at Curtin University. I got started working in STEM after my undergraduate degree. I graduated with both a Bachelor of Arts in Professional Writing and Publishing and a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Biology. I fell in love with communicating science to people and found that there was something special about communicating your own science to people. This of course led me into undertaking a PhD which is where I am now.  

What are you currently working on?

Currently I am finishing up my PhD in Molecular Ecology. I study how invertebrates can be used to tell us more information about the environment using a technique called DNA metabarcoding. I work on many different types of invertebrates, from native bees to carrion flies, and use this cutting-edge genetic technique to look identify what species they are and what they have been feeding on or foraging for. This can give us some in-depth clues as to what is happening in ecosystems around us and has some very useful applications for natural capital monitoring.

What do you hope to achieve over the next 12 months?

Over the next 12 months I hope to finish my PhD and publish some of my research.

Who would you like to give a shout out to today?

I would like to shout out all the wonderful women in STEM from my lab group, the Trace and Environmental DNA laboratory based at Curtin University, and the Food Agility group of scholars and academics. They are always so inspirational, kind, and supportive – I am so lucky to be surrounded by such awesome women!

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

“Haters are going to hate - so just keep pushing” – This advice has stuck with me throughout my journey, there are always people that are going to not like you or criticise you, but that’s their problem and not yours. Your priority is to keep doing the cool science and believe in yourself, because they are hoping that you don’t.

Finally, what advice would you give to women and girls seeking a career in STEM?

Find people that inspire you and ask them about their journey and how they got to where they are. It’s helped me realise that every journey is different, and if you want something really badly, there will always be a way to get to where you need to go.

Non-project publications

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