One of our researchers was invited to share her career experiences at an International Day of Women and Girls in Science event in Westmead.
Associate Professor Hilda Pickett, who heads up the Telomere Length Regulation Unit at Children’s Medical Research Institute, spoke at the event which was organised by the University of Sydney.
She was on a panel of high-profile Sydney scientists, taking questions from high school and university students, as well as young women at the beginning of their career.
Topics discussed included the loss of the mid-career scientist due to family responsibilities, the role of mentors, how to obtain high level positions, and being assertive.
Prof Pickett said she was inspired to become a scientist by her father, who she joined at the lab on weekends, when she was a little girl.
“At school, I was fascinated by genetics,’’ she said. “The idea that we are a convergence of two people just fascinated me, and I really loved doing research in the lab. I loved the thought process involved.’’
Many of the young women in the room wanted to know if there were any disadvantages to being a woman in science, and Prof Pickett said you had to be very strong.
“Some women may take rejection worse than their male counterparts, and there is a lot of rejection in science,’’ she said. “Unconscious bias against women is also a hidden problem.’’
The women on the panel shared their experiences of navigating a family and a career. Prof Pickett said she chose to not take as much maternal leave as she was entitled to, giving birth to her daughter on her last day at work and returning seven weeks later. She said she worried about not progressing her research enough to obtain government funding in the next grant round.
“Taking time out can have a real impact. It’s a big consideration, and I’ve noticed it substantially.’’
Prof Pickett’s biggest piece of advice for the high school students who attended, from Canterbury High School in Sydney, was simple.
“Work hard and be the best you can at what you do.’’