Dr Mary Webberley: Mentorship Is The Key To More Women In STEM

Women Love Tech
on 25 June 2018

Dr Mary Webberley was recently recognised as the winner of CSIRO’s ON Breakout Female Scientist Award at the annual CSIRO ON Demo Night. She has shared her journey towards building an impactful career in the field of research and science.

Having a real-world impact has always been a passion of mine – despite doubts, early in my career, as to whether it would be achievable. As a scientist who started out in the study of insect parasites and pathogens, believe me when I say, there is no starting place too small (literally) to grow an impactful career out of – particularly in science.

With that in mind, I hope my story can inspire other young scientists and women in STEM to strive for a career that makes a difference – which, you’ll see, can manifest in many ways.

Below I’ve shared my lessons on how to make an impact through my life lessons.

Mentorship is the key to more women in STEM

My first lesson in making a difference in your career, is one of the earliest I learnt myself.

My passion for science began at Cambridge University, where I completed my undergraduate and PhD in an all-female college on the evolution and ecology of insect parasites and pathogens. Surrounded by other ambitious and intelligent women forging their careers in STEM, I had many positive role models inspiring me to take my work above and beyond what I might have thought was possible if alone.

The lessons I learnt from those role models that surrounded my early development taught me the importance of mentorship in supporting the next generation of women in STEM – something which is an achievable goal to anyone wanting to make an impact through their own career success.

Now, as I progress in my career, participating in CSIRO’s ON program has shown me that mentors are just as important as ever. The program gave us access to a number of high calibre industry experts, with experience spanning business, fundraising and tech. Their support was invaluable in steering our research to success

A starting point is to inspire those around you. I work every day to set an example for my daughter, and to encourage her development in her areas of interest. I want her to know the possibilities available to her future.

Taking mentorship one step further, by working with the Marshall Centre, I’ve been lucky enough to visit a number of primary and secondary schools to conduct experiments and speak about my career journey – as well as the importance of science. Mentorship in this way, is a powerful tool for making an impact.

Dr Mary Webberley: Mentorship Is The Key

Taking ideas from the lab into the real world

Australia’s research institutions are excelling at fostering incredibly innovative and ground breaking ideas, yet, our capacity to turn them into commercial success is seriously lagging, with the Global Innovation Index ranking Australia 72nd in the world for turning research into commercial outcomes.

To address this, CSIRO’s ON program has been working specifically with deep science and tech research teams to help commercialise important science through, amongst other things, connecting them to mentorship and real-world feedback.

I am one member of the Noisy Guts Project team, a diversely-skilled and highly talented group that have been working to produce a potentially life changing solution for Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) sufferers. The solution is an acoustic belt that listens, records and analyses gut noises to detect gut health status – the belt works similarly to the way in which an ECG monitors your heart rate.

The end result is a safe, non-invasive screening, monitoring and diagnostic tool that could make a remarkable improvement on the current diagnostic and management processes, which are time-consuming, costly and elusive, unnecessarily clogging up our health system.

During the course program, I was highly involved in the human research side of things, interviewing various GP’s, patients and carers to discover what should be at the core of our work – what could we deliver that would help real people?

What came next was an amazing team effort. We combined our various skillsets in research, engineering logistics and even machine learning and presented the final product at CSIRO’s ON Demo Night, where we pitched our idea to hundreds of industry representatives and stakeholders.

As the winner of the Breakout Female Scientist Award on the night, I’m so proud to have helped the Noisy Guts Project evolve from something more theoretical to something that could soon have a huge impact on many people’s lives.

Looking back today at my career as a scientist, which has evolved from insect-based research to now include the fields of human biology, physiology, good clinical practice and designing human research – it’s clear to me that building an impactful career involves a combination of responding to your own gut instincts, while also listening to the world around you.

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