Mater Researchers smash science’s glass ceiling 

Sunday 11 February 2024

In a world where only 33.3 per cent of researchers are women, Mater Research is breaking barriers with 60 per cent of research groups led by women, and a total research workforce of nearly 80 per cent women. Today on 11 February, we celebrate International Day of Women and Girls in Science 2024, and Mater Researchers share how they are contributing to closing the gender gap in science.  

Mater Research and The University of Queensland PhD student Nikita Rosendahl grew up as a “huge science nerd”, with a love of science that was always encouraged by those around her. This led to the natural decision to pursue a career in medical research to make exciting new discoveries that will benefit patients.   

Nikita is part of Mater Research’s Cancer Immunotherapies Research Group, which is led by Professor Kristen Radford and based at the Translational Research Institute. Nikita said she is surrounded by so many amazing scientists every day and is especially grateful to know so many wonderful female scientists at varying stages of their careers who she can take a lot of inspiration from.  

Of the gender gap in science, Nikita says that it is “very real” and can't be solved by simply encouraging more women to work in STEM.   

“I don’t think it’s difficult to convince a child that being a scientist is a pretty cool job. Children are naturally curious and are already scientists themselves as they discover the world around them.”   

“Unfortunately, as we grow up, society pushes us, especially girls, away from that natural curiosity and wonder. As a society, we need to do better at nurturing a growing love of science in young girls and make it clear to them that their voices are not only wanted but needed within the science community.” 

“Women need support through every stage of their science career, and we need systemic changes that address prevailing gender biases and structural barriers that still exist for women in STEM,” Nikita said.   

Prof Radford agrees, and said that in biomedical research, it’s not a question of attracting women to science.  

“The challenge is retention. We need to ensure women in science have the career progression into leadership roles to maximise their potential and impact as well as to support and inspire the next generation,” Prof Radford said.  

As Mater Research’s longest serving researcher, Prof Radford has supervised 19 students, 12 early career researchers and has mentored a further 12 students outside of her own research team. Prof Radford says that Nikita is already a great mentor for girls who are interested in science.  

“She is highly engaged in collaborative, leadership, mentoring and community engagement activities with her team members, her peers via student committees, high school students via the Wonder of Science Program, and the community,” Prof Radford said.   

Mater Research Director of Operations Emily Bailey said that Mater Research actively embraces diversity and inclusion as part of our business, and takes strong guidance from our Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Committee. 

“We seek opportunities to promote the achievements of our female researchers and to foster career development for our Early and Mid-Career women,” Emily said. 

“Initiatives like our targeted Strategic Grant for Outstanding Women are aimed at amplifying female researchers who have excelled in their field despite circumstances and barriers that could impact on career progression. This grant helps to overcome the gender-based career interruptions that so often affect women in research.” 

“This naturally leads to more women at Mater Research holding lead investigator roles and senior academic positions.”