Celebrating international women and girls in science

As the world celebrates and acknowledges International Day of Women and Girls in Science, we thought we’d chat to Melbourne scientist and mother of 2018 littleBIGidea winner Amelia Fox about the importance of female leadership in the STEM space and how she came to be a Senior Lecturer at RMIT on Electrical and Biomedical Engineering.

Do you remember the first time you were told about dinosaurs and how they once roamed the earth and skies? RMIT Electrical and Biomedical Engineering Senior Lecturer, Dr Kate Fox, said it was moments like these – moments of pure wonder and intrigue – which needed to be nurtured and encouraged in kids in order to attract and retain both girls and boys to work in STEM.

“STEM is a critical part of the learning interface for all children,” Dr Fox told us.

“It is the opportunity to invent, build and think without confinements.

“STEM allows you the freedom to try new things, learn about the world, make mistakes and find solutions. More importantly, STEM is fun.”

Dr Fox said the importance of attracting and retaining girls in STEM was a “well-established problem” and stressed that “any tool to provide the spark to get girls thinking about STEM is important”.

“Think back to kindergarten and early school years, all kids love finding out about different types of dinosaurs,” she said.

“I think if we can keep that spark in research and finding out about things we like, we will have a good chance of keeping more people in STEM. 

“Afterall, STEM is not just maths and hard science, it is inventing, it is building and it is being creative.”

The International Day of Women and Children in Science was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly a few years ago in an attempt to achieve gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls in the science space.

According to a study conducted in 14 countries, the probability of a male student graduating with a Bachelor’s degree, Master’s degree and Doctor’s degree in science-related field is much higher at 37%, 18% and 6% respectively. For females – the percentages were just 18%, 8% and 2% .

For Dr Fox, engineering had long been an area she wanted to pursue, having a natural affinity for medicine and math.

“I finished my degree and was drawn into a PhD on studying the materials in hip implants before becoming involved in some pretty cool medical bionics research looking at both the Bionic Eye and Brain-Electrode Stent Interface,” she said.

“Now I am using my engineering skills to make 3D printed implants.”

Now, her daughter – having been one of three 2018 littleBIGidea winners – is following her Mum into STEM.

“I was so incredibly proud and excited that Amelia was part of the littleBIGidea program,” Dr Fox said.

“I was also so proud of all the other entrants and their cool ideas. The genuine excitement by the school community and the wider community for these young inventors was exceptional. 

“I think it is a fantastic ticket for kids to get involved in critical thinking, inventing and showing us adults what uncomplicated ideas can achieve.”
Dr Fox attended a day designed to help the 12 o finalists work on their critical thinking – hosted by Origin Energy.
“I cannot endorse the LittleBIGidea program more,” she said.

“The 12 finalists spent a day with engineers learning about how to articulate a problem and its solution.

“My advice for other parents is to let the kids look around their environment, what problems do they see; at school, at sport, at their grandparent’s house, and find some solutions.”

Dr Fox said it was never too young to let kids start thinking about inventions and how science, math, tecnology and the environment can play a role in creating a better world.

“Adults are terribly complicated, all solutions don’t need a computer chip and a smart phone app,” she said.

“Most importantly, have fun.”

A light bulb, a graphite pencil and a battery – watch Dr. Kate Fox and daughter Amelia create light with just a few materials.

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