See it … be it! Flinders ophthalmologist to inspire female scientists

Ebola and Zika battling South Australian ophthalmologist Professor Justine Smith is among Australia’s first ‘Superstars of STEM’ charged with inspiring the next generation of female scientists.

Professor Smith, who is currently leading a $600,000 project to save the sight of hundreds of thousands of people suffering from the inflammatory eye disease uveitis, is one of thirty scientists honoured.

She says she is thrilled to accept the challenge of keeping young women on track for careers in science at a time when so many potential female scientists were being lost to other career paths.

“There is an urgent need to promote science to the next generation of women,” says Professor Smith.

“I have always taken up the challenge of leadership, even when the task at hand initially appeared daunting, so I am thrilled to have the opportunity to empower women to achieve their full potential in science, which is one of the greatest challenges, and opportunities, of our generation.

“Gifted young women are choosing other career paths, seeing little opportunity or excitement in science, and that’s something that needs to change if we want to achieve all of the world-changing possibilities available to us through scientific research.”

The Superstars of STEM project aims to inspire girls towards a career in science by raising the profile of current world class female researchers and clinicians across Australia.

Professor Smith made the cut thanks to life-changing work which famously includes being among the team that first reported post-Ebola uveitis was associated with persistence of live virus inside the eye.

She has been a strident advocate for biomedical research as President of the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology, and as a past President of the American Uveitis Society.

Other leadership roles include serving on the International Council of Ophthalmology and the International Ocular Inflammation Society, and as Co-Chair of the Flinders University Steering Committee for SAGE Athena SWAN project.

Australia’s Superstars of STEM program will be given the opportunity to speak with schools, connect with mentors, and attend events promoting gender equity in science and technology around Australia.

The program aims to smash existing gender stereotypes, says Kylie Walker, CEO of Science & Technology Australia, and to make a career in STEM a more attractive and achievable option for young Australian women and girls.

“As the saying goes: if you can’t see it, you can’t be it. That’s why we’re working through Superstars of STEM to improve the visibility of brilliant Australian women scientists and technologists,” says Miss Walker.

“Girls pick up an interest in science in primary school but this drops off around the age of 15. One of the main reasons this happens is a lack of publicly visible female role models in science, technology, engineering and maths.”

Superstars of STEM is supported through the Australian Government’s Women in STEM and Entrepreneurship program, and will be delivered in partnership with the Australian Science Media Centre and Women in STEMM Australia.

More information on the program can be found at https://scienceandtechnologyaustralia.org.au/superstars

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