‘Find something you love and go after it’: Words of advice from three top scientists this International Women’s Day

It’s no secret that Deakin University is home to some amazing researchers at the top of their field, solving industry challenges and supporting PhD students to follow in their footsteps.

This International Women’s Day (IWD), on March 8, Deakin is celebrating that.

The Deakin Research News team gathered advice from three of Deakin’s many world-leading female scientists, including our very own Professor Sally McArthur, on what it’s like to be a researcher and how more women and girls can get involved in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).

Dr Imali Hettiarachchi, Professor Sally McArthur and Professor Svetha Venkatesh.

‘You belong in the world of science’

Who’s a woman in science that inspires you? For Dr Imali Hettiarachchi, from Deakin’s Institute for Intelligent Systems Research and Innovation (IISRI), it’s Dr Mica Endsley, the U.S. Air Force’s first ever woman chief scientist to lead the way in technology and science.

‘Dr Endsley’s interdisciplinary approach to studying human performance continues to inspire researchers and practitioners in the field to develop innovative solutions to enhance human-system interaction,’ she says.

In her own work, Dr Hettiarachchi applies scientific methods to study human performance, including cognitive state assessment, decision-making and overall wellbeing, in applications including autonomous vehicle systems.

She said intelligent systems research has been a rewarding career ‘where your unique perspective and contributions are invaluable to advancing the field’s knowledge.’

‘One thing I’d tell women and girls wanting to work in intelligent systems is to never underestimate the power of your curiosity and intellect,’ she says.

‘Believe in yourself, have confidence in your abilities, pursue your passions relentlessly, and remember that you belong in the world of science just as much as anyone else.’

‘It’s okay to try and fail!’

Even as a child, Alfred Deakin Professor and Co-Director of Deakin’s Applied Artificial Intelligence Institute (A2I2) Svetha Venkatesh has always loved science.

‘I love that there’s so many things we don’t know, and sometimes we get to discover something new.’

Her research involves building new AI frameworks and developing sample-efficient algorithms to accelerate exploration in other fields, including working with the Black Dog Institute to accelerate trials of personalised mental health treatments for students.

She has also been working for over a decade with Cerebral Palsy Alliance to develop AI for early detection of cerebral palsy.

If you want to become an AI expert, Professor Venkatesh says there’s lots of problems out there to solve and being resilient is key.

‘Stay positive, it’s okay to try and fail! No one knows everything. That’s why we need scientists.’

‘Don’t be afraid’

Professor Sally McArthur, Director of Deakin’s Institute for Frontier Materials (IFM) is recognised among the top 10% of the most highly regarded biomaterials scientists in the world.

Her research focuses on surface engineering and creating new materials and products for the healthcare industry.

‘I love the creativity and inventiveness that is required to develop new research knowledge and I am a people person – so this is the ideal job for collaborative work!’ she says.

‘I enjoy bringing researchers and industry partners together, hearing what they’re working on, discussing ideas and sharing knowledge to drive impactful research.’

For women and girls wanting a career in materials science, Professor McArthur’s advice is not to be afraid to ‘put yourself out there’.

‘Start meeting people and discover who you want to work with and what you want to work on,’ she says.

‘The materials science research community is big, but there are so many brilliant people out there to work with and learn from. If you don’t put yourself out there, you may never reach your full potential.

‘Find something you really love and go after it. It’s so important to find something that makes you think: “I’m really curious about that and I want to know how it works”’.

Happy International Women’s Day to Professor Sally McArthur, Professor Svetha Venkatesh and Dr Imali Hettiarachchi and all the incredible female researchers working away in offices, labs, hospitals, clinics, universities and in the field.

Hear more from Deakin’s outstanding female scientists.

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