Blog

Celebrating Women in Science

By: Madelaine Love, Category: AMRI, Date: 09 Feb 2017

More women in science = better science. 

Rebecca Johnson: Koala Genome Project

Rebecca Johnson: Koala Genome Project
Photographer: Stuart Humphreys © Australian Museum

In celebration of UN International Day of Women and Girls in Science, we caught up with Dr Rebecca Johnson, Dr Jodi Rowley and Dr Greta Frankham — three of the phenomenal scientists kicking major science goals here at the AM.

Dr Rebecca Johnson - Director, Australian Museum Research Institute, Science & Learning

A certified Wildlife Forensic Scientist with over 18 years’ experience as a molecular geneticist in Australia and the USA, Dr Rebecca Johnson became the Director, Australian Museum Research Institute (AMRI) Science & Learning in March 2015. She was previously Head of the Australian Centre for Wildlife Genomics. With a PhD in the field of molecular evolutionary genetics Dr Johnson's work has helped established the Australian Museum as a global leader in the field of wildlife forensics and conservation genomics.

What inspired you to pursue a career in science?
It can be summed up simply as ‘wanting to make a difference’. From a young age, I aspired to a career that would improve the world in some way. Science is a great way to do this!! Through my career as a wildlife forensic scientist and conservation geneticist I feel incredibly fortunate to have the chance to make a positive contribution every day. The sense that you are contributing in some way to the conservation of the natural world, particularly, at a time when so many species are under threat and when science itself needs support, is a real motivation to keep the flag flying for the importance of science.

Who inspires you?
My peers, my mentors and Sir David Attenborough! I have been very fortunate to have some incredible science advisors and mentors throughout my career and I am indebted to both them and the Australian Museum for supporting my vision to become a leading Wildlife Forensic laboratory. It is inspiring to work with great people and see how their work is also making a difference. Through our work on the koala genome consortium I’ve had the privilege of collaborating with a broad diversity of scientists united by a shared goal of koala conservation. Finally, Sir David Attenborough is an inspiration to us all. Through his extraordinary career he has showed the world the importance and the value of science and given voice to what might otherwise have remained invisible.

How important is it that we as a society continue to provide opportunities for women in science?
Diversity is essential for success!! Evolution shows us that and even the business world understands that more ‘diverse’ companies often return higher profits! I am deeply passionate about the importance of women contributing in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). It starts with inspiring our pre-schoolers and students and ensuring there are equal opportunities to ensure women are supported valued in their contributions and opportunities.

Any words of advice for young women aspiring to pursue a career in a field of science?
Ensure you are the best scientist and science communicator you can be. Talk to scientists from any field you find interesting (most of us love to share our science journey); understand the questions that are critical to your chosen discipline; then do your best to learn as much as you can. Learn all the science that underpins your chosen field which is helped immensely by carefully choosing your advisor and your project. Following that I would say go for it, and ensure you commit yourself to communicating your work to the world! It’s a constantly evolving profession and there are research opportunities for excellent young scientists to really make their mark if they are prepared to be persistent and work hard.

 
Dr Jodi J Rowley – Curator Amphibian & Reptile Conservation Biology

Dr Jodi Rowley is the Curator of Amphibian & Reptile Conservation Biology at the Australian Museum and UNSW Australia. She is particularly passionate about discovering, describing and understanding amphibian diversity in the places that are under the greatest threat. Dr Rowley has greatly expanded knowledge of amphibian species diversity in Southeast Asia, having led over 25 expeditions in the region and co-discovered more than twenty new frog species there! The ultimate aim of her research is to ensure that healthy populations of frogs and other amphibians survive in wild for future generations.

When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in science?
Pretty soon after I enrolled in Environmental Science at UNSW. You’d think I’d have known before that, but I didn’t. I wasn’t sure at that time whether I wanted to be a graphic designer or a biologist. Lucky for me, I picked correctly, and pretty soon after I started the course I knew I was in the right place. It wasn’t some time after that I fell in love with frogs, and once I realized how important they were, and how much trouble they were in, decided that I was going to spend my life working to help ensure their conservation.

Who inspires you?
A lot of people inspire me for different reasons. My parents inspire me because they allowed me to follow my passions and didn’t say a single negative thing when their only child decided to pack up and move to Cambodia in search of frogs in the remote forests of SE Asia! Their support is astounding! I’m also surrounded by inspirational, passionate scientists and leaders at the Australian Museum and beyond.

How important is it that we as a society continue to provide opportunities for women in science?
Just as important as ever. While we are making great improvements in the opportunities for women in science, we have a long way to go. There’s still a huge gap, and we can’t relax until there’s gender equality in science (and beyond).

Any words of advice for young women aspiring to pursue a career in a field of science?
Follow your passion in science, and don’t be discouraged by set-backs and obstacles. Work to ensure that future generations of women in science don’t have to face the same obstacles.
 

Dr. Greta Frankham – Manager (Acting), Australian Centre for Wildlife Genomics

Dr Greta Frankham is the acting Manager of the Australian Centre for Wildlife Genomics (ACWG) at the Australian Museum Research Institute. One of only two certified Wildlife Forensics Scientists in Australia (the other being Dr Rebecca Johnson, above), Dr Frankham's academic research has focused on the population genetics and molecular evolution of threatened Australian marsupial species. She is part of the Koala Genome Consortium and works regularly with partners such as the zoo industry to assist with providing genetic data to assist captive management of threatened species. Dr Frankham also focuses DNA-based wildlife forensics and conducts research to develop new genomic tools to assist with forensic investigations. She also carries out case work for a range of government and industry partners to investigate wildlife trafficking and biosecurity breaches and regularly provides expert evidence to assist in prosecuting these cases.

When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in science?
Both my parents trained as scientists so I grew up in a science positive environment. I think it was inevitable that I would end up working in some sort of science related field.

Who inspires you?
The people around me. I’m always being inspired by the passion and motivation and creativity of the scientists I interact with on a daily basis.

How important is it that we as a society continue to provide opportunities for women in science?
It’s very important. The continued advancements of the scientific fields come from a diversity of people contributing their ideas, experiences and approaches to a problem. Of course we need to have women contributing as much as men. As well as people from as many different backgrounds as possible.

Any words of advice for young women aspiring to pursue a career in a field of science?
Its always worth pursuing something that really interests you so if that is science then go for it! You don’t have to be a pure research scientist, there are lots of other careers that pursuing science can open up for you.