The Dwarf Stars of STEM network aims to celebrate and raise the profile of non-PhD holding women of STEM who would otherwise just keep plugging away at their day jobs and generally receive little recognition of their stardom and ‘quiet achievements.’ The contribution of these women as mentors to NT girls is intended to demonstrate you don’t have to live in a populous capital city to be successful in a STEM career, and that it’s not just about success in academia or research.
If your organisation or community group would like to get in touch with any of these inspirational women, please contact email@example.com to make a request for an opportunity to engage with them, either in person or via teleconference.
They are all wonderful mentors and enjoy a good chat! Read their bios below.
I am passionate about all things outdoors, which is how I ended up becoming an environmental scientist.
I moved to Darwin after finishing uni to take up my current role in the contaminated land space. Having grown up in regional Queensland towns like Gordonvale and Maryborough, and now that I’m living in Australia’s smallest capital city, I am passionate about opportunities to encourage our next generations to enter into science, tech, engineering and maths (STEM) fields.
I hope to gain valuable skills to inspire change, lead and collaborate, as I embark on a journey to Antarctica with 80 other women in STEM from around the world! Homeward Bound #3.
My name is Clare Pearce and I was born and bred in the NT. I currently live in Katherine with my husband, kids, dogs and chooks, but I grew up in remote NT as well as in and around Darwin. When I was a child I visited many places that are now national parks and reserves but I had never heard of Park Rangers….until I became one.
Since 1987 I have been, amongst other things, a research technician, park ranger, wildlife ranger, horticulturalist, nursery manager, community engagement officer and environmental educator. In-between times I’ve been a parent, made coffee, cleaned houses and worked in the school canteen.
I’ve grown orchids, mowed the lawn, cut down huge trees, fed the birds, caught crocs and snakes, made maps, published hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles, chatted with thousands of people, cleaned endless toilets and driven the length of the NT more times than I can count. I was there for the start of Wildcare, Wildtime and Walk in the Park. I’ve taught hundreds of people to grow trees and have listened to so many different stories along the way. The best times I’ve found though, are when I get to experience a ‘first time’ with someone, when they see something, go somewhere or realise that they can do something that they have never done before.
I’ve spent much of my career working in a mostly male-dominated environment, including with men who were grandfathers and had never worked with a woman before they worked with me. Life, however, is changing, with government policies and slowly changing community ideals it’s become easier to be ‘alternative.’ My advice to all of us is to be brave and go where your heart is, even if it takes you to unexpected places.
I grew up in the southern burbs of Sydney, and spent most of my time playing music as I thought I was destined to become a teacher, like my most influential mentor – my mum.
In year 11 & 12 though, I discovered rocks, thanks to a random pick of a science subject for my HSC studies. I also realised I actually did quite like spending a lot of time outdoors – having worked as a trail-riding supervisor whenever I could get out to Cattai State Recreation Park (thanks Dad for taking me camping there in the first place!) My love of the natural landscape and seemingly instinctive navigational skills (I now realise from reading maps and street directories as a kid, just like my son now does) were indications that maybe my destiny was taking a new turn.
From Sydney to Weipa (FNQ), then Sydney to Townsville to Mount Isa (NWQ) to Clermont (CQ) and back to NSW, to the Hunter Valley. I completed a science degree and worked as a geologist in exploration, underground and open cut mining, then as a consultant running my own business.
Aboard the 1st Homeward Bound Project voyage to Antarctica in December 2016, I ‘unearthed’ my deeper purpose in life, which I found is:
“To educate and entertain. I want everyone to enjoy the stories the rocks have to tell. They can’t speak for themselves, so we have to interpret for them. They tell us about natural process the Earth has undergone way, way before humans ever touched it. But why is knowing about these processes so important? So we can learn to interfere less. No other species on Earth has left an unnatural footprint behind like we will from the artificial world we have created.” (This being my statement to my ship buddies.)
And eventually, after surviving boom and bust cycles of the mining industry, I wound up worlds-away, here in the NT, working as a science communicator and event manager for Inspiring Australia, a commonwealth government initiative, at Charles Darwin University.
My role is so much fun – people are happy to meet me because I can help them fund projects that they’re passionate about. I get to play with cool tech stuff and even occasionally get to talk to kids about rocks!
The advice I’d give to my 20 year-old-self would be to sing What a Feeling (Flashdance) unashamedly every day, to take your passion and make it happen.
My name is Lauren Sandon and I am originally from Perth in WA, and I got to where I am today the long way…
Choosing to enjoy high school social life rather than passing my final exams – I eventually found a path to a degree by completing a TAFE college course that credited me into my chosen field of Environmental Science at Murdoch University.
But after graduating, I craved freedom, so I set off for Europe on a working holiday with friends. Seven years later and back in Perth, I started a role with an environmental and engineering consultancy in an admin position. Six months later, when the company found out I had a degree, they offered me an entry level role in their environmental team. Yay!
Nine years have now passed by and despite the long hours, being away from my family and friends, and being in a male dominated industry, I often reflect on the amazing opportunities I’ve been given through my role; like travelling to remote islands and mine sites in north-west WA, flying in helicopters to work, watching turtle hatchlings shuffle to the sea, four wheel driving through sandy dunes, countless postcard sunsets and sunrises and lastly, experiencing Antarctica along with 75 other women in STEM.
My piece of advice for any young women considering a life in STEM is not to stress the small stuff. If you have a passion for something, then reach for it and if you fail once, it’s ok. Learn from it and try again a different way. Keep trying until you find your place – trust me it’s out there – you just have to be brave enough to work for it.
I started my career working in a small waste management firm in Sydney while I was studying an undergraduate zoology degree. This job provided me with an understanding of the operational side of delivering services to a large city, and I learnt a lot about how businesses strive to improve the environmental performance of their operations. From this role, I moved into local government, as a Waste Audit Officer at Waverly Council. This was a wonderful opportunity to further my skills on the operational side of environmental management, particularly around the importance of data management and implementing large behaviour change programs.
From Waverly Council, I moved back into the private sector, working for a small environmental firm that provided composting, organic production and rehabilitation services to councils and large organisations across New South Wales. Following this, I explored international development through an AusAID-funded volunteer program, with a placement in the Philippines for 12 months.
Whilst I thought this was going to springboard me into a career in international development, it actually had the opposite effect, convincing me to learn more about Australia and the diverse landscapes that we have. And so I moved to the Northern Territory, which was possibly the most significant move in my career and my life.
Working as Sustainability Programs Coordinator with the Local Government Association of the NT, I had the chance to visit remote communities across the NT. I ran programs in waste management, climate change risk assessment, asset management and disaster recovery. During this time so many things in my life changed as I met my now husband, got married, moved into a rural beach community outside of Darwin and started a family. After five years with LGA NT I started working at City of Darwin, as the Manager of Climate Change & Environment.
Although I already had a Masters in Environmental Management, I was interested in trying out some vocational training paths, so I went and got myself a CERT IV in Asset Management and a CERT IV in Training and Assessment.
I’ve also stood as an elected member on my own community council, Wagait Beach Shire Council. Sitting on a board or Council is a fascinating way to develop skills in organisational management and governance. I resigned from this position after 6 years on Council, but I would certainly recommend participating on a board or Council to any young person looking for ways to diversify their skill set.
My name is Kathleen Patrick and I was born in Townsville. My neighbourhood was full of scientists, including my parents. I was lucky to be surrounded by many people encouraging my curious mind and problem solving skills. At school I did plenty of science and maths but I also joined every sports team, theatre production, music band and bit of fun I could find.
University came as a bit of a rude shock for me. The area of science I was studying was hard and I was pretty lazy, but also I did not enjoy what I was studying. I pushed on as I thought I was supposed to, but after a few failed subjects, taking time off and then finally some better marks near the end of the degree, I finally realised that I didn’t have to finish it at all. The best decision I made was to jump ship into a course that worked for me and I’ve never looked back. In fact, I went back for more science study when I was ready ten years later to further broaden my horizons.
Science has given me opportunities to work 1.5km underground, use state of the art technology and software, assess environmental contamination, work with Aboriginal community schools in remote WA, write and teach science at Murdoch University and most recently, curate a science gallery in the new state museum in WA, opening in 2020.
I see science as a process that helps us make better decisions in all areas of life and recognise that we all need to be given opportunities to do so. I have spent time volunteering in science classrooms working with teachers and students and as a member for Professionals Australia on their National Science Committee as an advocate for scientists in Australia.
Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics are vital for a healthy and flourishing society. But there is also a need for being creative in what we do and working with people from different disciplines to find innovative solutions to problems. I enjoy knowing about lots of different things and as a Science Communicator, I get to help scientists talk about their science but also to engage the general public in better understanding our world through science.
My craziest science adventure to date was on a ship to Antarctica in 2016 with a bunch of excellent women who were all scientists too. Who knows what’s next in store on this journey in science?
“Science is a process we use every day and it allows us to make better decisions along the lifelong pathway of learning.”
My name is Tooba Awais and I was born in Abu Dhabi, UAE. I am a very proud mother of two very inquisitive girls who love every bit of our existence.
Growing up in a small city of Abu Dhabi and watching the neighbouring city of Dubai grow by the day always amazed me. I remember driving with my dad to Dubai and being fascinated with the only high rise tower called the Trade Centre on the Shaikh Zayed Road (the widest highway in Dubai). Unlike now, when one drives around downtown Dubai, you are surrounded by multiple high rise towers and witness humongous sharks kept in the world’s largest indoor aquarium. Amazing isn’t it?
Science has always fascinated me. Not that I was given all the STEM opportunities when I was young, but I can proudly say that I enjoyed knowing more and more and eventually decided to study teaching.
I think the most fascinating thing about teaching is to come across so many different probing minds on regular basis. Some very inquisitive, some very curious and some not so curious too. Being a Science/Maths teacher I feel I have found my passion. Every single day I learn a lot of new things, sometimes because one of my students asks a question that I may not necessarily have the answer to, or sometimes just to know more or sometimes to teach more.
I think the opportunities with STEM are endless. Just like the engineering marvels in downtown Dubai to the endless virtual world that we are a part of, to the smallest Yoctometre[i] that humans may have possibly travelled or aim to travel to, or as far as the last Yottametre[ii] that may exist with all the nebulae that dwell in the outer space, there is no limit to how far we can go and that is what excites me about STEM.
Science means constantly walking a tightrope between blind faith and curiosity; between expertise and creativity; between bias and openness; between experience and epiphany; between ambition and passion; and between arrogance and conviction – in short, between an old today and a new tomorrow.
I am busy finding the new tomorrow 🙂
My name is Gargee and I am an eternal optimist with an immensely curious spirit.
I grew up in Mumbai where I completed computer engineering at uni and started my career in the world of Information Technology for banking and insurance products. While I love analysing and problem-solving, I’ve realized that solving a problem doesn’t always translate into a solution for the end-user.
While living in Minneapolis in the US, I completed some more studies as I wanted to manage real-world customer-focused challenges and seek continuous improvement. I then worked providing after-market IT support for a manufacturing company that made engines and generator sets.
I moved to Darwin in 2017 – oblivious to the concept of wet and dry seasons!
Now I manage exciting projects within the Northern Territory government that deliver value to both internal users as well as members of public. When I’m not working, I like to catch up on reading or spend time with my family or play table-tennis, or normal tennis.
During my life on Mother Earth so far, I have survived the Y2K bug, witnessed the demise of the Walkman, VCR and floppy disks, and I’ve had mixed feelings about the evolution of the internet, social media and digital assistants. I prefer books to Kindle and I am proud of the fact that a Nokia 3310 was my first mobile phone.
I have voluntarily led school stationery distribution drives, coached a middle school students’ person development program and devoted countless weekends for First Lego League.
I am extremely passionate about STEM-focused initiatives. And here in Darwin, I had my ‘Eureka’ moment when I realized that students are missing out on the hands-on experience of exploring basic electronic components, tools and circuits. So I founded Build IT Up with a vision to create a world where everyday technology makes common sense. Through Build IT Up I have run more than 25 workshops in its first year – providing an enriching experience to nearly 200 participants! I’ve found it a challenging journey so far; but the fact that children and parents love my workshops and want to enrol in more keeps me motivated to work even harder towards my endeavour to inspire interest, confidence and knowledge in technology.
My name is Liz Kneen and I chose to study science without knowing what career path I wanted to take.
I moved to Darwin for an adventure whilst finishing my studies and quickly discovered it is the most exciting place to start a career in STEM! Through working as an Environmental Scientist, I’ve been involved in a broad range of projects all across the Territory, involving activities such as environmental monitoring on boats and helicopters, visiting remote communities, problem solving and working with a range of wonderful specialists.
Through these experiences, I’ve further developed my passion for sustainability and care for the environment.
I hope to keep developing my skills into the future and I’m keen to take on leadership opportunities to inspire young women.