Wednesday, 19 April 2017

The Universe is yours to explore! Introducing 2017 Women in Physics Lecturer

We are honored to introduce Dr Katherine (Katie) Mack as our 2017 Women in Physics Lecturer and we are looking forward to have her around Australia. Here is our interview to know her a bit more:

Q: What or who inspired you to become a physicist?

I’ve had role models over the years, but mostly I wanted to become a physicist because I’ve always wanted to know how things work. And physics is the way to understand how things work at the most fundamental level, and to answer the very biggest questions.

 Q: Who would you say your favorite Physicist is?

one from history! Emmy Noether was more of a mathematician than a physicist, but she revolutionized theoretical physics anyway.

Q: What do you think has been the most exciting discovery of the last 10 years?

LIGO’s detection of gravitational waves, definitely. I don’t know of any other discovery that has been so important both for confirming an important part of a theory (which is something the Higgs boson discovery also did) but that also opens up an entirely new world of discovery space. With gravitational wave detectors, we can study black holes and the fundamental nature of gravity and space time, and we can observe distant objects in the Universe that we had not other way to see. It’s just an unbelievably exciting tool to have at our disposal.

Q: According to statistics, we don’t have many women in academia.What do you think the reason and challenges are? And have you ever had one of these moments in your career that you wanted to leave academia? Any challenges in early career job? What is your advice?

This is way too big a topic for a short answer, or even a long discussion. There are a lot of pressures and systemic issues that push women out of science, and physics in particular. Some of them relate to bias, discrimination, and workplace culture, some relate to the general pressures and stereotypes that women face in society in general, and some are related to systems in place in academia that create challenges that affect women more than men, on average. There’s no one answer to the question – I think we need to work on all of it. I’m not sure I’ve ever really wanted to leave academia, but I’ve often wondered if I would be able to stay. When you’re a postdoc, if you want to stay in academia and become a faculty member, you can spend many years applying for a small number of faculty jobs and not getting anywhere. Statistically, it’s just a fact that most people who apply will not find a position, and the stage where the bottleneck is worst is the postdoc to faculty transition. That said, a physics degree is fantastically versatile, so even if you don’t stay in academia, your chance of getting into some really rewarding and exciting career is really high. I like being in academia, and I think it suits me, but it’s not going to be the best choice for everyone, and I think that’s fine. I don’t have any advice about academia that can really be generalized to everyone. I think it’s really important to figure out what really matters to you in your career – what you find rewarding and why – and to take that into account when you’re choosing a career path. Being passionate about a kind of basic research that only happens in academia, and enjoying the lifestyle that comes with academia, are good reasons to pursue an academic career, but it’s always a good idea to seriously explore other options too. You never know where your career might take you, or what you might find joy in. Being able to make a career out of what you love doing is an amazing privilege that not everyone is lucky enough to have – just keep an open mind about the possibility that you might love doing more than one thing.

Q: In your research you take on the 'big challenges' in physics - how do you approach such large and difficult questions?

My work relates to really big questions but almost everyone in physics specializes on a small part of a bigger effort. It’s a very collaborative field. I’m happy to be working on something that could play a part in answering some of the really big questions, and to be working with other talented people to reach those goals.

Q: Where do you think the Universe is going?

It’s not really going anywhere – it’s just expanding and evolving.

Q: As a successful woman, what do you think is the most important thing to keep in mind going toward your goals?

I try to keep in mind that being worried about the possibility of not being good enough isn’t really a good reason not to try something challenging. It’s rare for anyone to be a really good judge of their own abilities. Our brains just aren’t really built for that kind of objective assessment of ourselves. Might as well try and see how it goes.

Q: Based on your experiences do you have any advice for aspiring young scientists especially women?

Never worry that something being hard means you’re not cut out for it. There’s not really any such thing as being cut out for it or not. As for the “especially women” part – I guess I’d say it’s important to realize that you’re likely to be underestimated, and it’s sometimes helpful to try to externalize it when that happens. You’re subject to the same kinds of biases everyone else is, so keep an eye out and fight against the urge to underestimate yourself.

Q: What is the best book you recommend young female scientist to read?

I don’t really have any recommendations, because almost everything I read is fiction. I’m thinking about writing a book, though – you should read that one!

Thank you Katie.
We can read more about Katie  in and Check out when she is speaking in your state on the AIP events calendar.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Advance Queensland Women's Academic Fund - Extension of Funding

The Queensland State Government has announced the continuation of the Advance Queensland Women's Academic Fund until 30 June 2017. Grants continue to be available for: 

 § Maternity funding - up to $25,000 (excluding GST) to employ a researcher, or research/laboratory assistant, to assist primary researchers who have approved maternity leave. 

§ Carer funding - up to $1,000 (excluding GST) to cover any relevant out-of-pocket child care or respite care expenses in excess of usual carer arrangements while presenting at a national/international conference or sitting on a professional research committee. 

 § Lecture funding - up to $2,000 (excluding GST) to cover the costs of delivering lectures or presentations highlighting the work of leading Queensland-based female researchers. 

 Applicants interested in applying for any of the above should contact UQR&I at prior to lodging an application. As restrictions apply on the number of Lecture funding applications an organisation can submit, these proposals will be coordinated by the Office of the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) on UQ's behalf. For more information on this scheme, please see the Advance Queensland webpage, or refer to UQR&I's webpage for information on how to apply, or contact .

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Inspiring to speak out - two physicists who changed the world

2017 is to be the year advocacy. In January, millions took to the streets in the worldwide women’s marches. The new US president’s executive order which brought about a visa ban for citizens of a number of countries led to a number of airport protests. And now scientists are pushing back. Marches are being planned for 22nd April (Earth day). But, this move is not without its critics, some scientist would prefer for us all to keep our heads down in such times.

There’s no escaping that scientist are embedded into society (whether we like it or not) and I do rather feel for my climate science colleagues who are watching as we sleepwalk into future strife. This is of course is only one issue that relies heavily on scientific endeavours, and those who think science operates in a vacuum are deluding themselves.

In times such as these it can seem dangerous to put your head above the parapet, so I thought I would take a bit of a historical perspective and look for inspiration in those who have raised their voices. The two people I immediately think of, Kathleen Lonsdale and Ursula Franklin, are far from ‘rogue’ – Dame Prof Lonsdale was a fellow of the Royal Society and Prof Franklin held a prestigious chair at University of Toronto. But both did raise their voices against world and local events in their time.
‘Does the police come for one or do I just have to go to prison myself?’
In 1943 Kathleen Lonsdale, was convicted to a month in Holloway prison for her consciences objection to work supporting World War II activities. At this time she had already undertaken perhaps her most famous research, showing through the crystal structure of Hexamethylbenzene that the benzene molecule was flat, a controversial finding at the time. Understandably, she was reticent to go to prison, but to all accounts it turned out to be a pivotal event in her life.

Kathleen Lonsdale in 1968. Smithsonian Institution from United States

Senior colleagues petitioned for her to be allowed her scientific papers while interred, and she remarked it turned out to be a most productive time. She left prison writing to the governor with suggestions on improving the lighting and cleanliness, and followed up on her points by regularly returning (as a visitor). Her experiences led her to advocate for women prisoners in later years and it can’t be said that her researcher career suffered. In 1945, along with Marjory Stephenson, Kathleen Lonsdale was elected one of the first female fellows of the Royal Society.

Her seniority within the field of crystallography also meant that Kathleen Lonsdale became very well connected with international colleagues, and used those connections in her advocacy against atomic weapons and to break down cultural barriers. She strove to welcome Soviet and Chinese colleagues in a time where political distrust was at its highest, visiting Moscow in 1951 and the People’s Republic of China in 1955. One thing I find particularly inspiring was her determination that those scientists from developed countries had a duty to assist those in developing economies.

Ursula Franklin, who passed away last year, was a pioneer in archeometry and the first women to be appointed University Professor at University of Toronto. But it was her experiences of being interned in a Nazi labour camp as a young adult drove her passionately to passivism. Perhaps her biggest contribution was when she used her scientific expertise to into a strong passion for pacifism.

Ursula Franklin in 2006. Martin Franklin

It was as a member of the Voices of Women group, that she coordinated the collection of baby teeth in Canada in the 1960’s. The subsequent analysis that was undertaken of these teeth, showed that they contained radioactive Strontium 90, a result of atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons. This emotive piece of research was one of the key pieces of evidence that lead to the 1963 ban on atmospheric nuclear weapons testing.

Being a women researcher in the post-war period, she broke ground fighting to stay in her job after the birth of her children.
‘They had that bloody committee, and they went on deliberating. They didn’t appoint anybody, so I kept on working’
Even when retired Franklin kept on campaigning, joining a group of emeritus professors who filed a class action against the university of Toronto in 2001 citing that their female academic staff had been underpaid for years. They won.

In 2017, as we have to stand up and make our voices heard, I find the legacies of Prof Franklin and Lonsdale incredibly inspiring. Here are two physicists who use their scientific position and research to further a cause – I’d be interested in finding others who’ve inspired you.

The Conversation
Helen Maynard-Casely, Instrument Scientist, Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

APPC-AIP conference – What did the Women in Physics group get up to?

The women in physics group doesn’t currently have our own meeting, so the biennial AIP congress is the main time we have to get together and discuss the state of women in physics in Australia. This year however we had extra opportunity, as the congress was held jointly with the Asian Pacific Physics Conference, giving us a fantastic opportunity to connect and network with our colleagues from the Asia Pacific region. The WIP group held a number of activities during the conference, which all occurred on the 6th December. This action-packed day was kicked off by the WIP breakfast event with Prof Nalini Joshi as our guest speaker, followed by a Plenary by Prof Youngah Park and then in the afternoon we hosted two conference sessions with invited contributions by Prof Evvy Kartini and Prof Kate Joliffe. 

Breakfast event 

This great event was sponsored by EQuS, and we were very fortunate to have Prof Nalini Joshi as our guest speaker. Prof Joshi has been an instigator of the Science in Australia Gender Equality (SAGE) pilot that has been tremendously successful with 40 institutions currently signed up and seeking a bronze award in the approach to equity. She spoke on the motivations and need for such a pilot and outlined how all in the room could get involved and assist their institutions in making SAGE a success. The breakfast event also allowed us to thank a number of members for their support of the WIP group over the years, and to form a new committee for 2017/18. 

Plenary by Youngah Park 

After breakfast was done, we moved to the large theatre to hear Prof Youngah Park’s plenary lecture on ‘W-Leadership, Key driver of Innovative Engines’. Prof Park is currently President of Korea Institute of S&T Evaluation and Planning and has a very interesting, and almost unique perspective, as not only is she a senior scientist but she has also served as a member of the National Assembly of Republic of Korea from 2008 to 2012. So her duel perspective on the role and strengths of women in the physics workforces was particular insightful. In particular she outlined the large opportunities that gender innovation can give to a country at large, through sustaining economic growth and opening new markets.


As part of the conference we held two sessions, the first focusing on the state of Women in Physics in the Asian region and the second looking to how we can move forward from where we are. In our first session we heard from invited speaker Prof Evvy Kartini, from Indonesia’s National Nuclear agency about Women in Physics within Indonesia, her personal perspective on this as well as lots of very positive stories about how things are improving. For the remainder of the session we heard contributions from Japan, Korea and China and it was fascinating to see how the state of things are so different in each country. Though, the sad fact remains that in all countries a number of barriers have been identified to women participating fully in the physics world. 

In the session looking about how we move forward, we heard from Prof Kate Joliffe about the strategic mentoring program that has been instituted at Sydney university's chemistry department. After finding a dearth of women at band E (professional level) and determining that there was a lack of people putting in for promotion to this level – the department put in place a mentoring scheme . Now successful, they are implementing the scheme to lower levels, a very interesting case example of positive action. Also in the session Jo Turner reported on statistics she had gathered both from the conference diversity survey and also presented the picture of equity in AIP awards. Both revealed quite a lot about the community, with a very definite case for action – we’ll write a separate post about this.

Thanks to Sarah Maddison for the photos of the WIP events.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Lecturing position opportunity

A lecturing position is  available in RMIT university which our young  academic members may wish to apply.  From more info see link here

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Extended Deadline - can you inspire the next generation of Women Physicists?

The deadline for applications to be the 2017 Women in Physics lecturer has been extended to the 14th December.  

The AIP women in physics lecture program will be entering its 20th year in 2017, showing the long-standing commitment of the AIP to inspiring future women physicists.  This year we’re seeking a lecturer from Australia (we seek international lecturers in alternate years), to undertake a national tour speaking to school kids and the public.  This year’s lecturer, Prof Catalina Cureanu, spoke to nearly 2000 school kids in her whirlwind three week tour!   

To apply, head to the AIP website.

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Grants for Women's leadership development

See below for details of an opportunity from Women and Leadership Australia:

In 2016 Women & Leadership Australia is administering a national initiative to support the development of female leaders across the sciences.

The initiative is providing women in science with grants for leadership development. More specifically, grant applications are open for women at three levels. Please click on the preferred program link for details. The deadline for expressing your interest for this funding in your sector ends on December 15th.

Senior management and executive level women leaders can apply for $8,000 part-scholarships to undertake the Advanced Leadership Program

Mid-level female managers and  leaders can apply for $4,000 part-scholarships to undertake the Executive Ready Program

Aspiring talent and emerging women managers can apply for $3,000 part-scholarships to undertake the Accelerated Leadership Performance Program.

Expressions of Interest
Register your interest by simply completing an Expression of Interest form.

Should you wish to discuss the initiative in more detail please contact Ian Johnson at the office of the National Industry Scholarship Program, Women and Leadership Australia on (03) 9270 9016 or via