Category: In the Spotlight

The Value of STEM: Heroic Women Who Inspired My Social Science

Continuing our Role Models series, STEM Women team member and sociologist Dr Zuleyka Zevallos shares how her primary school teachers and a series of children’s books inspired her scientific imagination. Reading stories of heroic women who used education and science to improve social justice helped Zuleyka see that girls, including those from minority groups who are denied rights, can and do make a positive impact on society.

Zuleyka Zevallos, PhDThe story of why I became interested in STEM starts when I migrated to Australia from Peru. I hadn’t yet turned eight and I didn’t speak any English. Thankfully, as luck would have it, we were enrolled into a highly progressive multicultural school in the inner city of Melbourne. My teachers, Mrs Rosa in Grade 3 and Miss Maria in Grade 4, worked hard to make non-English-speaking children like me feel included.

My teachers were amazing, celebrating every little task I mastered: from writing my first English sentence, to reading aloud to the class, to progressing through maths exercises. Our teachers took time to ensure that I did not get left behind. They also assigned us a tutor for extra English lessons for the first three months of school. They would look me in the eye and encourage me when I got the right answer, and I can remember once they stopped the class to announce that I has written a great short story. With small and large gestures, they imbued me with the courage and motivation to keep learning despite the language barrier. (more…)

The Secrets of Life: Why I Got Into STEM

As part of our Role Models series, our team are sharing their inspiration for becoming involved in STEM. In this post, STEM Women creator, Dr Buddhini Samarasinghe, shares the creative inspiration for following her passion in molecular biology. Buddhini’s tale shows the importance of popular culture in igniting the scientific spark amongst young people.

Buddhini profileI was 13 years old when I first read Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park. I hadn’t seen the movie, so I had no preconceptions what to expect with the book. But it was enough to hook me. It wasn’t the dinosaurs that fascinated me, but rather the description of DNA, the sequencing machines, the cloning…I was entranced. Looking back, it’s rather ironic considering Michael Crichton was notoriously anti-science, and his characters are often very critical of scientists. Yet, it was my gateway into molecular biology and I knew that this was what I wanted to do someday.

A few years later, I borrowed my mom’s copy of The Double Helix by James Watson. Although at the time I was unaware of the sad story of Rosalind Franklin, I was still fascinated by the narrative of what things were like at the Cavendish laboratory in Cambridge, the birthplace of molecular biology. From then I ravenously consumed books about science, ranging from Richard Dawkins to Thomas Kuhn; Stephen Hawking to Simon Singh. (more…)

For the Love of Linux: How I Became a STEM Woman

Our blog will be bringing you stories from women working in STEM as part of our “Role Models” series. We kick things off with our STEM Women team reflecting on how and why they became interested in STEM. First up is Liz Quilty, who shares her personal journey from being a single mother teaching herself to code to becoming a Linux professional.

This is a long story, it may take some time. I would suggest perhaps getting a cup of tea and getting comfortable.

Growing up, I was a tomboy and hung about with my brothers. Days were spent climbing trees, wrestling, and doing ‘boy’ stuff. My mother tried to make me more ‘girly’, but since most of her time was taken up with my disabled sister, I was rather wild. I never did particularly well in school, not learning to read until I was 8 years old, and having issues throughout school (later realizing I have some dyslexia).

In my early teens, we moved from one end of the country to the other, and I had to suddenly go to a girls only school. This was a bit of a culture shock, I had no real way of relating to girls so much. I kind of got along with some, but for the most part I was a loner. After getting fairly sick and taking 6 months off school when I was 16, I ended up dropping out of school. I met a guy not long after that, and left home.

For the next 7 to 8 years I had 4 kids, and changed partner a couple of times. By the time I was 25 I was a high school drop out, single mother of 4 with no real skills at all to speak of. I did not stay in contact with most of my family and was pretty much a train wreck waiting to happen. Living on government handouts life sucked, and I was fairly sick of it and wanting to turn things around. Having no skills at all really was the killer though – who would hire somebody with 4 kids who couldn’t even afford childcare to work? (more…)

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