Reach for the stars

Canning Times - - FRONT PAGE - Ben Smith

CURTIN Univer­sity as­tron­omy re­searcher Natasha Hur­ley-Walker is on a mis­sion to smash stereo­types in 2019.

The Wil­let­ton res­i­dent is one of 60 Aus­tralian fe­male sci­en­tists cho­sen for the 2019-20 Su­per­stars of Stem pro­gram for her work at the Curtin In­sti­tute of Ra­dio As­tron­omy and the In­ter­na­tional Cen­tre for Ra­dio As­tron­omy Re­search.

The pro­gram aims to boost the pro­file of women in sci­ence, tech­nol­ogy, en­gi­neer­ing and math­e­mat­ics to break down gen­der as­sump­tions about sci­ence­based ca­reers.

Dr Hur­ley-Walker said she was ex­cited to be in­volved in the pro­gram and hoped to make Stem-based ca­reers seem more vi­able to young girls.

“When you’re a kid, if you’re just see­ing peo­ple who are dif­fer­ent from you in a cer­tain role, it’s sort of hard to imag­ine your­self do­ing that role,” she said.

“When peo­ple pic­ture sci­en­tists, they pic­ture Doc Brown from Back to the Fu­ture and while Christo­pher Lloyd is great, there’s ac­tu­ally quite a lot of women sci­en­tists out there.

“I’m ex­cited to be able to show other young women who are maybe think­ing they have to be in ad­min­is­tra­tion or they have to be a nurse or a carer of some kind, there’s ac­tu­ally sci­en­tists out there and we’re one of many ca­reers ac­tu­ally open to women.”

An ABC Ra­dio Na­tional Top 5 Sci­ence win­ner in 2018, Dr Hur­ley-Walker said it was im­por­tant to chal­lenge stereo­types early as chil­dren were pro­grammed to pick up on gen­der stereo­types at a young age.

“I went in to my kid’s day care last year and there was this lit­tle dio­rama set up and I couldn’t help but no­tice all the men were dressed in pro­fes­sional out­fits – they all had roles de­fined by their jobs,” she said.

“All the fe­male fig­urines were just in clothes; they didn’t have any par­tic­u­lar roles, and I know my kids are see­ing this so any­thing I can do to fight the tide of stereo­typ­ing would be a good thing.”

Dr Hur­ley-Walker said di­ver­sity was vi­tal to a suc­cess­ful work­place, which was why it was im­por­tant to in­volve women in­volved in STEM-re­lated ca­reers.

“If you look at the man­age­ment of com­pa­nies, stud­ies show if the ex­ec­u­tive team has good gen­der bal­ance, on av­er­age those com­pa­nies are about 20 per cent more profitable,” she said.

“If you want to do good sci­ence, you don’t want to have all the same peo­ple work­ing on the prob­lem.”

Dr Hur­ley-Walker will be at Curtin Univer­sity's Astro Fest on March 16.

Curtin Univer­sity re­searcher Natasha Hur­ley-Walker.

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