Her Story: Meet South Australia’s inspiring women in science

A new series of installations at the South Australian Museum celebrates some of the pioneering work being done by women in science.

“We’re not thinking about the smells; we’re thinking about what we’re going to find next.”

That may not sound like the greatest ever career advisor pitch, but when you understand the speaker and the context it makes sense. And hopefully, if you’re a young woman, you’ll find the whole story inspiring.

Dr Catherine Kemper is a Senior Research Scientist in Mammals at the South Australian Museum, the smells are from a dead whale on a South Australian beach (there’s nothing like a dead whale, she notes, to capture the public’s interest), and the words themselves come from a short video that will be playing in the Museum’s entrance foyer over the next three months.

Kemper, who built a scientific career on an enquiring mind and a love of the outdoors and was named an Unsung Hero of SA Science in 2016, is the first person to feature in Her Story: Inspiring Women in Science, a new Museum initiative to showcase real and realistic female role-models in what we now all know as STEM – science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

“To succeed in life and be happy you need to do what you love,” Kemper suggests to the next generation. “Get lots of experience by volunteering and make sure you have a broad life outside of work.”

Dr Catherine Kemper, South Australian Museum
Dr Catherine Kemper, Senior Research Scientist in Mammals, South Australian Museum.

It’s an understated exhibition, with each video supported by a display case of personal items that are meaningful to the subject, but Museum Director Brian Oldman believes there is great power in the simplicity of successful women sharing their personal journeys and advice to others.

“I feel there is a critical role the Museum can play in offering important experiences for young people that inspire the next generation of scientists,” he says.

Three other successful scientists will follow Kemper and will each feature for three months, though Oldman hopes the initial one-year program will turn into an ongoing initiative and become a focal part of the Museum’s main public area – which sees around 800,000 visitors a year.

Professor Tanya Monro, Deputy Vice Chancellor: Research and Innovation, University of South Australia

Next cab off the rank, starting in February, is Professor Tanya Monro, Deputy Vice Chancellor: Research and Innovation at the University of South Australia and South Australia’s 2011 Australian of the Year.

Monro is well known for her research in the field of photonics and leading initiatives to support women in STEM, but perhaps less well known as a talented musician who enjoys designing shoes.

“To never fear that I’m not good enough,” Monro says. “Science is challenging, but wonderfully rewarding. I recall at every stage, at every choice, questioning whether I was good enough to progress to the next stage. To know that hard work pays off, and that mentors make a real difference.”

Dr Hannah Brown, South Australian Museum
Dr Hannah Brown, Chief Science Storyteller, SAHMRI

The third featured scientist is Dr Hannah Brown, a former researcher in women’s health and fertility and current Chief Science Storyteller at SAHMRI, a SA Young Tall Poppy, one of Australia’s inaugural Superstars of STEM, and the Patron of STEM at Woodville High School, and a great role-model for a career outside academia.

Brown will be followed by Rebecca Richards, an Adnyamathanha and Barngarla woman from the Northern Flinders Ranges who was the first Aboriginal Australian Rhodes Scholar and South Australia’s 2012 Young Australian of the Year.

Dr Rebecca Richards, South Australian Museum
Rebecca Richards, South Australian Museum

At just 31 years of age, Richards has already studied at Oxford University, worked with the National Museum of Australia, the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, the South Australian Museum and is completing a PhD at the University of Adelaide.

She was drawn to anthropology, however, by the simple act of watching scientists listen to and value the stories her father told them about his land.

“I saw what they do, recording our stories and I thought that’s a good idea, I could really do this for a job. That’s how I got involved in it; not necessarily through school but seeing anthropologists, archaeologists and geologists talking to my father.”

Her Story: Inspiring Women In Science
South Australian Museum
samuseum.sa.gov.au

The Adelaide Review is a media partner of the South Australian Museum

Images:
Randy Larcombe

Adelaide In-depth

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