International Day of Women and Girls in Science
February 11 was International Day of Women and Girls in science. To celebrate, we talked to four female researchers at Turning Point, all at different stages of their career.
They share how they got interested in science, the challenges they have faced being a woman in STEM and the great work they are doing here at Turning Point.
A passion for science
For as long as she could remember Turning Point research officer Naomi Beard has always been fascinated by science.
In high school she took all the science and maths classes she could and continued her journey into university doing an undergraduate in Arts with a major in anthropology and a Bachelor of Science with majors in microbiology and biochemistry.
“I had a fantastic year 9/10 teacher who gave me a lot of confidence to pursue science and by the time I reached university I had found my stride,” Naomi said.
Naomi took as many opportunities as she could at university including partaking in a volunteer program in Peru. Unfortunately, one of the girls she was travelling with was bitten by a dog on a farm and she had to be quickly rushed to hospital.
“We rushed her to hospital and the way they were identifying rabies victims or people who may potentially have rabies was by picking a picture of a dog in a scrapbook. That was their method of determining risk.”
“That is when I decided I wanted to spend the rest of my life helping people who are in a less fortunate position than myself to fight disease and contribute to equity to healthcare.”
After her undergraduate degree Naomi then completed her Masters in Science - specialising in epidemiology and is now hoping to do her PhD at Monash, looking at Hep C viral transmission.
“I wasn't entirely sure about epidemiology when I first enrolled. I wasn't even sure I was going to get in. But I had a great lecturer who really encouraged me even though it was the riskier option. I ended up getting in and I am thankful to that lecturer for pushing me.”
“Turning Point has also been pivotal, being my first job in research and epidemiology. It has helped set me on a path to where I want to go.”
The challenges women face in science
Although Naomi has had a lot of support throughout her scientific endeavours, she has also faced many challenges.
“There is a lot of stigma you face as a woman in science. There’s this idea that it is too hard for girls.”
“In high school I was one of three girls in my chemistry class and I was one of a handful of girls in my Maths Methods class. When I got to university lots of men would speak over me in class.”
Turning Point’s Head of Research and Workforce Development, A/Prof Victoria Manning said she has also faced challenges throughout her career.
“As a woman you face additional challenges in establishing yourself as an independent researcher,” A/Prof Manning said.
“Breaking away from the shadows of male professors and doctors establishing myself as a senior researcher has not been easy.”
During her nine years at Turning Point A/Prof Manning has published many research papers and led innovative projects, including developing the SWIPE app,
"My research focuses on neuroscience-informed interventions that aim to address the less conscious aspects of addictive behaviours, using a form of brain training called Cognitive Bias Modification (CBM), and a following a research study in 2020 on its effectiveness in reducing alcohol use and craving, we made the app available to the public."
As head of the research and workforce development team, , A/Prof Manning has seen other women rise through the ranks and achieve great things in research.
“Half of Turning Point’s senior leadership team are women and both the faculty and University at Monash are led by incredible women, and the investment in raising the profile of women through training and mentorship, is really great to see.”
“I try to pass on as much knowledge, experience and opportunities to female colleagues as possible. I encourage women to make sure they get the credit they deserve, because being recognised by being named on research papers early on, helps build successful careers.”
The great work women are doing at Turning Point
Research Fellow in Addiction Studies Dr Jasmin Grigg says she has benefited from the mentorship Turning Point has provided.
“I didn't realise how much was happening at Turning Point when I started here and how much involvement the organisation had with government bodies, industries and health services.”
“It has really provided me with a lot of great opportunities and I have always felt supported.”
Dr Grigg is currently working on the Health 4 Her program which aims to increase women's awareness of the impacts of alcohol on breast cancer.
“Alcohol is a major modifiable risk factor for breast cancer, yet very few women know about the link between alcohol and breast cancer. We want to get more women thinking about their alcohol consumption so they can make informed decisions when it comes to their health, ” Dr Grigg said.
During her time at Turning Point, Dr Grigg has also run randomised control trials of treatment for alcohol and methamphetamine use.
Dr Annette Peart is a research fellow in the clinical and social research team who has worked at Turning Point for almost two years.
Dr Peart has 20 years’ experience in the health field, holding a PhD in person centred care for people living with co-occurring health conditions, as well as a registered occupational therapist, a lecturer and in the disability employment field.
“I have successfully been able to translate my previous studies and work experience into the work I do here at Turning Point,” Dr Peart said.
During her time at Turning Point, Dr Peart has been a part of many projects that help improve people's access to treatment for addiction, including a collaboration with SHARC to trial an online support group for family and friends of people struggling with their drug and alcohol usage.
“It was a support group that was brought entirely online because of the pandemic. We found more people were able to participate compared to the traditional way of meeting face-to-face. Having it online also allowed people from regional areas to attend, thus improving the access to support
“We also found that when people attended the online support group and completed our pre and post surveys, they showed an improvement in confidence to cope with their family situation.”
Moving forward Dr Peart would like to continue her research program with peer workers.
“I am currently working with peer workers and focusing on ways they can help people experiencing problems with their drug and alcohol usage navigate the treatment and support system.”