Teaching Moments

Women in Science 

Authors - Councillors Deborah de Ridder and Dr Lauren McKnight

This edition of Teaching Moments highlights the work of women in STEM research. STANSW recognises that it is important to present a gender balance of scientists in the classroom to our students so that every student sees a place for themselves in the science disciplines. Although much of the science in history includes records of a male dominated profession, there are many examples of women who have made a profound impact on scientific research and discovery. STANSW Council feel that teachers are in the ideal position to craft contexts for learning that include the rich contributions of women and other groups to their fields of expertise to enhance syllabus content and currency in science.  

Keep it current

 The work of current scientists can be used to highlight relevant topics as they overlap with syllabus content. CSIRO Chief Scientist Dr Cathy Foley’s work on superconductors or  Katie Bouman’s role in the first image of a black hole are recent examples. Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic and its overlap with module 7 of the Biology syllabus is an obvious example. There are many female experts whose voices and images could have a place in your classroom as you return and discuss the unfolding crisis. For example, this video interview with virologist Dr Hannah Sassi answers a lot of interesting questions. And if you’re up for some healthy debate, you could always discuss the work of virologist Shi Zhengli with coronaviruses in Wuhan

Don’t sugar coat it 

While it might be tempting to simply hold up examples of famous women like Marie Curie and Jane Goodall, students will quickly see through any attempts at tokenism. It is certainly important to celebrate the heroes who paved the way for others (this slideshow from Smithsonian Magazine gives you 10 ideas you might not have heard of from history, and geologist Marie Tharp is celebrated in this lovely animation) we should equally discuss with students the barriers and discrimination faced by women in the past.  
This article about Ruby Payne-Scott begins  “On September 8th 1944, the Australian radio astronomer Ruby Payne-Scott committed a workplace transgression that would ultimately cost her both her job and her career. She got married.”  Discussions sparked by such a resource could help female physics students understand why there are tragically few physical laws named after females and maybe even inspire them to rectify the situation by discovering one themselves!  

Make the most of resources and programs

 There are numerous organisations committed to promoting the role of women in STEM and advocating for the removal of remaining structural and social inequalities. The organisations below have a wealth of resources that could be shared with students, or even better, students could be tasked with discovering their favourite story of a scientists from an under-represented group for themselves. 

Profiles of women in STEM 

Superstars of STEM- Science and Technology Australia’s profiles of female scientists 
Women in Science – Video profiles of scientists from Monash University 

Organisations supporting women in STEM 

Women in STEMM Australia- association for women in science 
Franklin Women- inspired by the work and story of Rosalind Franklin, this network supports female scientists in health and medical research 

Other programs and resources

UNSW’s Women in STEM Ambassador Program has a wealth of resources and opportunities 
The GIST (Girls in STEM Toolkit) – “resources to inspire and inform girls, schools and families” 
The Young Indigenous Women's STEM Academy is a program by CSIRO that invites students in year 8 or 11 to participate in camps. 
Feb 11 is International Day of Women and Girls in Science, consider how your school might celebrate it.  

There is much literature about women’s contribution to the sciences and it is incumbent on all teachers to include the stories of science including male and female scientists whenever and wherever they suit the context. The science of human endeavours in societal improvements is powerfully motivating and provides a backdrop to which students can relate.