Coast's superstar of science is out to smash stereotypes
WHEN most people think of scientists, traditional images of old, grey-haired nerdy men in lab-coats come to mind.
However, a Sunshine Coast academic is out to smash the stereotype.
USC Senior Research Fellow Dr Celine Frere has been named one of Australia's first "Superstars of STEM", in a world-first campaign to appoint national role models for young women in science, technology, engineering and maths.
Superstars of STEM was developed by Science & Technology Australia, the peak group for the nation's 68,000 scientists and technologists, to raise the media profile of Australia's most dynamic female scientists.
Dr Frere, an evolutionary biologist with an interest in how environmental and social factors influence animal evolution, was one of 30 successful candidates announced by the Federal Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science, Senator Arthur Sinodinos.
Among Dr Frere's many career achievements, she established USC's Detection Dogs for Conservation initiative, which trains and uses sniffer dogs to assist research on endangered and protected species like koalas.
Through the Superstars of STEM campaign, Dr Frere hoped to elevate the status of women in the industry while inspiring the next generation to get involved.
"I'm very grateful, honoured and excited about the potential of this program and being able to use my profile to try and raise some awareness around women, and young women in particular, and their choices of career when it comes to STEM disciplines" she said.
"I have faced many challenges throughout my career and being a woman I'm wanting to be a voice and wanting to be a role model that the younger generation can relate to and make them see that a career in science is a reality and a very fruitful, successful and happy reality."
She said preconceptions science careers were for men was something that still influenced young girls and was an issue that needed to be changed.
"Very often I think if you were to ask a five or six-year-old they'll say that they (scientists) are old and grey-haired and wear lab coats, are nerds and not very exciting," she said.
"(I hope) To highlight the fact that's not the case and hopefully empower young women to say I have passion for physics or chemistry or robotics or mathematics or biology and I can be anything I want to be and can have a successful career in those disciplines.
She said diversity in the industry was vital.
"I think it's very important for them to have role models that they can look up to and say if these women have made it than so can I," she said.
Dr Frere has noticed the STEM industry was losing women as soon as their careers started to take off.
She said, in her experience, women would often complete PHD studies and even continue on to do post-doctoral study "but then eventually once they get their foot into a research academic career we seem to be not retaining them."
As part of the program, Dr Frere will receive training and development to use social media, TV, radio and public speaking opportunities to carve out a more diverse face for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.