Science has amazing stories to tell; it explains everything from the anatomy of our bodies to the chaos of the universe. Like history, it’s not perfect, and can skip over communities, genders and individuals. Not many science textbooks mention that health pioneer Florence Nightingale was in love with a woman, or that Sally Ride, the first American woman in space and director of the California Space Institute, shared her life and work passions with her life partner Tam O’Shaughnessy.
In everything we do as humans, diversity of perspective is vital to help facilitate understanding – research has shown that diverse teams are more likely to make scientific breakthroughs – and there’s a lot that we need to do to ensure equity of queer and sexual minority representation in science. For example Science Advances reported in 2018 that sexual minorities are less likely to persist in STEM fields after graduating – although mentorship and support from faculties can make a difference. – Heather Catchpole
Faelan Mourmourakis, transgender scientist
From as early as he can remember, Faelan Mourmourakis knew he wanted to work with animals.
Now a zoology researcher, Faelan says it feels unreal to be doing what he dreamed about as a kid. “I was about 12 when I first learned the word ‘zoologist’, and I thought ‘yes, I want to be doing that,’” he says. Faelan studies how honeybees think and behave by conducting experiments where the bees have to make decisions based on different signals. As a result, he’s found that honeybees are capable of really complex mental tasks. “I feel lucky to be part of a much bigger, important puzzle that is science,” he says. “Even if your research is only a speck in the massive amounts of research being produced – it’s still a very cool feeling.”
Despite Faelan’s passion for science, as a transgender scientist his path has not always been smooth – he experienced homophobia and transphobia during his undergraduate degree. “There were parts where I considered whether I should just drop out and leave,” he says. But having a support group of other LGBTQ scientists made all the difference, and that’s what encourages him to be an advocate for diversity in STEM today. “I know when I saw there were other LGBTQ scientists in my field it helped me feel a lot less lonely. If I can do that for younger people, especially trans scientists, then that’s great.”
Faelan’s Study and Career Pathway
- Volunteer at animal shelters and on zoology research projects
- Bachelor of Science (Zoology), Western Sydney University
- Masters of Science, Masters of Science (Zoology), Macquarie University
Jo Lackenby, woman in STEM
Myths and misconceptions abound when it comes to nuclear science – but engineer Jo Lackenby wants to change that. Jo is the regulatory and licensing officer at ANSTO’s (Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation) OPAL nuclear reactor, where she makes sure everyone is following the rules. Nuclear science is the study of the particles within an atom, and how they can be used in other areas of STEM. “We produce about 85% of Australia’s nuclear medicine, which is used for diagnosing illnesses and for treatment,” Jo explains. Nuclear medicine techniques are used in about a third of medical procedures, such as radiation in cancer treatment.
Jo says she has been interested in nuclear science since high school “maybe because it’s slightly mysterious and unknown”. And she wants to spark that curiosity in others. “My interest is in communicating nuclear science to encourage a diverse workforce, who can then also go out and communicate. Studies show diversity in any organisation leads to better outcomes, and I think anybody who wants to be in STEM should have access to it, irrespective of their background or identity.” – Joanna Khan
Jo’s study and career pathway
- Bachelor of Engineering (Environmental Engineering major) (Honours), University of Wollongong
- PhD in Geotechnical Engineering, University of Wollongong
- Consultant Engineer, Geo-Environmental Engineering
- 2019 Superstar of STEM, STA
RELATED: Diverse teams
5 ways to smash heteronormative STEM stereotypes
1. Check out the 500 Queer Scientists visibility campaign
2. Suss out @STEMforEquality scholarships
3. Follow @LGBTSTEM on Twitter
4. Be inspired by the amazing iGEM team working with bacteria at University of Sydney, including team leader and science student Fahad Ali, founder of Muslims for Marriage Equality
5. Queer Careers: STEM Out! is an event from Engineers Australia and Out for Australia
Author: Heather Catchpole
Heather co-founded Careers with STEM publisher Refraction Media.With a background in journalism and science, Heather now juggles projects and creates STEM strategies and has a passion for educational and innovation.