I am well aware that my path to an academic career has gone more smoothly than most. With a scientist-father and opportunities to communicate with other scientifically oriented students through the Australian Science Olympiads, I was protected against the perception that scientists were "geeks", a label that can be harmful to many young girls. As a bachelor, I have been fortunate to encounter wonderful mentors who have encouraged me and helped me to study and work abroad, crucial to securing a permanent academic job in Australia.
Supporting mentors throughout my career have made my journey so much easier and I wish all my colleagues had equal access to such caring senior scientists. But the real key to my success is that I have not come across any of the countless derailments that occur far too often: nobody ever told me that I could not save it because I was a woman; I had no family circumstances that hindered my mobility; and I have not (yet) fallen on the wrong side of a crucial financing decision.
Significantly, when I was a student and postdoctoral researcher, I have never seen a bad example of a woman in science. It is certainly true that we need students to see positive role models. But more importantly, we must ensure that they do not experience negative role models. In an environment where scientific success is measured by cold, hard statistics such as publications and funding, we must ensure that the researchers we present as examples to pursue are not only good scientists, but good, well-balanced people.
During my six years in academia, I have seen big steps to improve the landscape for emerging scientists. The Superstars or STEM initiative, for example, provides invaluable training for talented women, who in turn will inspire countless others. My own efforts focused on providing networks that enable researchers to access support, development and mentoring within their institution or research community in early careers.
When I was 18, just before I started at the university, I contributed to an Australian day The Sydney Morning Herald, where a cross-section of Australians was asked, which made them happy and sad to be part of this nation & # 39 ;. In response to the latter, I wrote that "Australia has taken an anti-intellectual standpoint overall … academic areas, where Australia performs very well, receive little encouragement".
Almost 17 years later, I am sorry to say that this has changed little. While accolades such as the Australian of the Year Awards and the Eureka Awards publicly applaud for scientists, our culture remains one where science is not seen as a desirable career by our smartest students, or their parents. We need our most creative students to look beyond "spending their ATAR" and following their passions. We must ensure that there is a stable and supportive career for them to follow, and we must continue to tell the stories of the compassionate and collaborative scientists who do have an impact.
Today's Australian science is wonderfully rich and vibrant, filled with enthusiastic, innovative and supportive researchers – imagine what else we can achieve in the future.
Associate professor Elizabeth New of the University of Sydney Institute of Nanology and Chemistry has won this year's Eureka Prize for Emerging Leader in Science.