Dr Nadeeka Wawegama
I’m a veterinarian and a Scientist. I have a 2 and half-year-old child. I’m passionate about science, particularly the microbe world. I’m fascinated by its complexity and that motivates me to investigate this vastly unknown microbe that affects us and the animal world.
The biggest challenge I had to face (Still have to face from time to time) came from men who come from South Asian countries, who had an issue with superiority when taking opinions from a woman! When I was a Ph.D student there were male South Asian students who thought that they can order me to do their work and got annoyed when I didn’t! I have met Ph.D students who would listen to the male supervisor’s option than mine.
I do know there is a lot more to do for Women in STEM in Australia, but with my experiences in Science Academia in Sri Lanka, the opportunities we have as women to be leaders is so much more here. A Simple example, if you are suitable you can be selected to become president of a club etc, whereas in Sri Lanka, most of the cases it is a male, a female would get the secretariat position regardless they both have the same qualification.
I have been in academia for more than 10 years; one has to be passionate about scientific research and teaching to stay in academia. Assimilate yourself with your colleagues, get to know them, they can turn out to be great associates and stand by you in thick and thin. The main surviving factor in academia is connections. Don’t wait to reach out when you need a job or a placement. Connect with people at any chance you get, the stronger your collaboration, the more success you will have.
Dr Chamini Perera
I am a Research Associate with the Pancreatic Research Group, South Western Sydney Clinical School, Faculty of Medicine, UNSW Sydney, Australia.
In 2010, my husband and I migrated to Sydney, Australia and I was 19-week pregnant at that time. Together, we began a new journey in a totally new world with all sorts of experiences. Soon after our first son was born, I started contacting universities, potential supervisors and searching for scholarships. I was fortunate enough to start a PhD at Faculty of Medicine, UNSW Sydney with a scholarship for full time studies. I had my second son during my 3rd year of PhD and I still recall the worry that I had during my pregnancy being mentally and physically stressed with the experiments. However, I successfully finished my PhD on time, secured a job even before I had submitted my thesis in the same department. In late 2018, I applied for a Research Academic position (a 5-year contract, which is an extremely rare luxury in this day and age) advertised by my current lab at the South Western Sydney Clinical School, UNSW Sydney and veered from neuroscience to gastroenterology. I would like to think that with my current research and my community involvement, I can make a positive change in someone’s life.
I believe as an early career researcher and a woman with two young, energetic sons, I am well on my way to achieve my goals. My perseverance, determination, dedication, hard work, enthusiasm and flexibility are the key driving forces of my success so far. My advice for young STEM sisters is that all genuine, hard work pays off; one just needs to be patient and ready to embrace new challenges.
Finally, I am always grateful to all the lovely women who have been around me who have helped me be who I am today.
Dr. Muneera Bano
I had never lived without my family before. Not only that I had no family in Australia, but there was not a single person in the whole country whom I could call 'my friend'. The only place of belonging was my university, where I spent days in the lab in isolation and mostly on social media to be connected to my family and friends in Pakistan. It was also that same university where I did academic research, excelled in my field, learnt, grew and made life-lasting friends including my PhD supervisor, Professor Didar Zowghi. It was during my PhD that I learned to live my life independently and manage my own finances. I traveled around the world to present my research in China, New Zealand, Brazil, Sweden, Italy, Canada, Malaysia, France, Germany, Spain and South Korea.
Three years later, I graduated with a PhD in Software Engineering and broke my concrete ceiling as a Pashtun woman. I could see some other graduating students worried about life after PhD, but I was no longer afraid of the future. My PhD was not a pursuit of a degree in the form of a piece of paper, it was a reforming journey of my life towards empowerment. That day, I felt this enormous sense of achievement, resilience and fearlessness, so much so that I knew there never would be any ceiling, glass or bamboo, that I am not capable of bringing down, for I broke my own "concrete ceiling".
It has been eight years in Australia, and here I am today, with a PhD in Software Engineering, Senior Lecturer at Deakin University, a superstar of STEM and winner of the 40 under 40 most influential Asian-Australian leadership award. I did not change my name to fit into the Australia society, nor did I ever try to change my accent. I always proudly told everyone who I am and where I came from. I came to Australia as an immigrant, single, Muslim, Pashtun woman from Pakistan. I was told that each of these identifiers is a barrier to success and empowerment. I never considered them as barriers. These are my badges of honor in the war of identities. To break any ceiling, you need to embrace your “superpower of authenticity”. Never lose your authenticity
STEM Sisters acknowledges, recognises and respects the Ancestors, Elders and families of the Boonwurrung, Waddawurrung and Wurundjeri of the Kulin who are the traditional owners of land in Victoria.