Winning battles for gender equity

Burnet Institute

10 February, 2017

Image: Burnet Institute PhD candiate Vashti Irani

On the eve of the United Nations International Day of Women and Girls in Science, it’s timely to reflect on statistics showing that senior positions in science are overwhelmingly occupied by men.

According to a study conducted in 14 countries, male students are more than twice as likely as female students to graduate with a Bachelor’s, Master’s or Doctor’s degree in a science-related field.

Nearing the end of her candidature and preparing for her PhD oration later this month on her research into immune responses to malaria, Burnet PhD student Vashti Irani is mindful of these trends.

“I think I’m fortunate in that doing an undergraduate degree at the University of Melbourne and working at Burnet, I’ve never had to face any issues where my gender has been a setback, or helped me get something that I didn’t deserve,” she said.

“But at the same time I’m aware that a lot of the differences between male and female researchers happen as they progress in their careers.”

The Chair of Burnet’s Gender Equity Committee, Associate Professor Heidi Drummer said it’s important for the STEMM sector – science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine – to develop ways to promote and retain women like Ms Irani.

“Senior positions in science are overwhelmingly occupied by men, despite the fact that women comprise more than half of science PhD graduates and early career researchers,” she said.

“This is inequitable and unfair, it’s a waste of expertise, talent and investment, and this impacts on Australia’s scientific performance and productivity.

“Gender equity is one of the pillars of Burnet’s wider mission, so it’s right and fair to advocate for equal opportunity for our own benefit.”

Ms Irani said she’s excited about the prospect of broadening her research horizons over the next few years.

“My PhD was spent asking some basic questions about the immune response to malaria and I definitely want to stay in a research capacity,” she said.

“At the same time I am also looking to expand, and I miss a little bit of people interaction, so in my next stage I may move more into epidemiological research where you look at things from a population approach.

“I’ve been supported by some wonderful role models and I hope that people who may look up to me as a role model understand that it’s a constant process and that we’re all fighting small battles all the time … and hopefully winning them.”

Celebrated on 11 February, the International Day of Women and Girls in Science was created by the United Nations General Assembly to recognise the critical role played by women and girls in science and technology.

Find out more about the International Day of Women and Girls in Science and Burnet’s gender equity initiatives.

Contact Details

For more information in relation to this news article, please contact:

Professor Heidi Drummer

Co-Program Director, Disease Elimination; Scientific Director, Burnet Diagnostics Initiative; Principal Investigator, Burnet Vaccine Initiative; Co-Head, Viral Entry and Vaccines Group




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