24 June 2019

International Women in Engineering Day celebrates the amazing achievements of women engineers, raises the profile of women in engineering and promotes career opportunities for women and girls.

In Australia and globally, women researchers are under-represented in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. This also applies to the Australian Research Council (ARC)’s National Competitive Grants Program (NCGP), which funds the highest quality fundamental and applied research and research training across Australian universities through a nationally competitive process.

Data from recent NCGP funding rounds shows that the focus on advancing women in STEM may be achieving change̶—since 2017, there has been an 18 per cent increase in the number of STEM proposals submitted by women researchers. In addition, there has been a significant improvement in the success rate of proposals submitted by women in engineering, increasing from 18.5 per cent in 2017 to 29.8 per cent in 2018. 

The ARC is supporting hundreds of women’s research careers through its NCGP schemes, across all disciplines and at all major Australian universities. Leading the generational change in STEM, and engineering in particular, are several outstanding early-career women researchers funded through the ARC’s Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA) scheme.

For instance, Dr Thuy (Kate) Nguyen from RMIT University has led the successful development of a composite, non-combustible and lightweight cladding core—a product that was previously thought to be impossible to create. This research is supported by the ARC Training Centre for Advanced Manufacturing of Prefabricated Housing (ARC CAMP.H) led by The University of Melbourne and a new 2019 DECRA project to develop advanced manufacturing of a nanocomposite façade to tackle the global issues of combustible façades and provide better fire design strategies to protect occupants.

Dr Danielle Moreau, who is based at The University of New South Wales, is a member of the Flow Noise Group in the aerodynamics laboratory, and focuses her DECRA-supported research on the understanding and control of flow-induced noise. The commercial application of this understanding comes from finding new ways to quieten modern technologies such as military submarines, wind turbines and aircraft.

Another DECRA-supported researcher, Dr Vini Gautam, at The Australian National University (ANU), is using nanostructured scaffolds to understand and engineer neuronal circuits. Her project aims to understand the formation of neuronal circuits in the brain, and will have applications for designing scaffolds to repair neuronal circuits after brain damage. Dr Guatam’s research is truly cross-disciplinary, bringing together researchers from multiple areas such as Electronic Materials Engineering; the Eccles Institute of Neuroscience; the Australian National Fabrication Facility; and the anu’s Research School of Engineering.

Achieving gender balance in the research workforce is about ensuring that outstanding women researchers have the opportunity to contribute to Australia’s research and innovation goals. 

The ARC has introduced a range of initiatives to support women researchers and promote gender equality under the NCGP, including:

  • An extension to the eligibility timeframe for early-mid career fellowships and awards. This is to assist early-mid career researchers who have had a career interruption, including for maternity leave or carer responsibilities.
  • Consideration of career interruptions as part of the Research Opportunity and Performance Evidence (ROPE) selection criterion. This is now a part of all our grants assessment processes, and ARC grant Assessors are provided guidance on the ROPE criterion.

Dr Archa Fox, an ARC Future Fellow at the Schools of Human Sciences and Molecular Sciences at The University of Western Australia, shared with us how these changes have impacted her career pathway in an ARChway article we published last year.

On International Women in Engineering Day, the ARC congratulates all the women who through their many groundbreaking achievements, are changing the gender balance for a fairer and more equitable research workforce in Australia.

Images:  ARC DECRA recipient Dr Thuy (Kate) Nguyen in the lab. Credit: Dr Nguyen (Top). ARC DECRA recipient Dr Danielle Moreau in the lab. Credit: Dr Moreau/UNSW (Below).