Composite image of Dr Laetitia Gunton, Elizabeth Dowding, Dr Pat Hutchings, Dr Amy Way, Dr Jackie Nguyen and Dr Isabel Hyman
Composite image of Dr Laetitia Gunton, Elizabeth Dowding, Dr Pat Hutchings, Dr Amy Way, Dr Jackie Nguyen and Dr Isabel Hyman. Image: Emi Berry
© Emi Berry

To celebrate this year’s International Day of Women and Girls in Science, we are profiling women from the Australian Museum Research Institute (AMRI).

Recognised annually on 11 February, International Day of Women and Girls in Science acknowledges the critical role women and girls play in science and technology communities. Started by the United Nations in 2015, this day also highlights the need for science and gender equality and the importance of inspiring and engaging women and girls in science.

In honour of the day, we caught up with six brilliant female technical officers, senior fellows and research scientists from AMRI about their careers in science and what inspires them – learn more below:



Dr Jacqueline Nguyen

Scientific Officer, Ornithology Systematics & Palaeontology


What is your proudest achievement/highlight of your career?

Naming new species of fossil birds is an incredible privilege and an exciting part of my research. A new species can be named after any distinctive features it might have, where it was discovered, or a person. I named the world’s oldest fossil magpie, Kurrartapu johnnguyeni, in honour of my late father. I also named two fossil songbirds, Daphoenositta trevorworthyi (‘Trevor’s Sittella’) and Dasyornis walterbolesi (‘Walter’s Bristlebird’) after my research mentors.

If you could change one thing about the field you work in, what would it be?

I’m happy to see that there’s a growing number of people from diverse backgrounds working in palaeontology today, which has not always been the case. There have been some positive changes since when I first started out as a student, but there is still much room for improvement. Having a more diverse and inclusive environment can only be a good thing for science.



Dr Isabel Hyman

Land Snail Systematist, Malacology


What drew you to your particular research/science discipline?

I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to work with a mentor from the Australian Museum when I was studying second year Biology at the University of Sydney. My mentor, Dr Winston Ponder, was a malacologist and was very clearly full of passion for his job. He helped me to devise a research project and to carry it out, and encouraged me to publish the results. Being drawn into the fascinating world of snails and learning about the process of scientific research by carrying out my own project was a life-changing experience for me.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever achieved?

Since you will spend a large part of your life at work, it is very important to choose a field that interests and inspires you.

What is your proudest achievement/highlight of your career?

Some of the most exciting moments of my career have been on field surveys, searching for rare snails and finding species that were recorded as extinct actually still surviving in the wild. This has happened to me on four occasions, each time on Lord Howe Island or Norfolk Island.

If you were to talk to a 12-year-old girl with an interest in science, what would you want her to know?

I would want her to know that it is important to work in a field that you love and find exciting. If your passion is in science, follow it, and you will find many amazing opportunities.

Were you encouraged to pursue STEM interests/a career in STEM?

My parents and siblings are all specialists in the humanities, so I was the only one in my family to pursue a career in STEM, but I was given great support and encouragement to do this. As well as my family, I was also supported in this ambition by some wonderful science and maths teachers at high school.



Elizabeth M. Dowding

Technical Officer, Geosciences & Archaeology


What drew you to your particular research / science discipline?

Palaeontology is many children's gateway into science. Dinosaurs are a family favourite! I am one of the lucky children whose imagination ran with palaeontology and never let it go.

What's the best piece of advice you've ever received?

There is some good in this world, Mr. Frodo, and it's worth fighting for.

What is your proudest achievement/highlight of your career?

I am happy that I was able to help people along the way.

If you could change one thing about the field you work in, what would it be?

Accessibility. Too much of science is locked behind a paywall; the money for articles is put into the pockets of publishers not researchers. Scientists need to fight for funding for research, which they then publish for free (or pay to have published!) and the general population cannot access these publications. Science education is locked away, so most people never have access to primary literature. How can society benefit from science if it cannot be accessed?

Ableism, sexism, racism, and homophobia are all just as present in science as in any field. There are many things requiring change.

What do you think deters women from going into, or staying, in STEM careers?

Society and culture. It really is a systematic and structural problem that cannot be narrowed down to one thing, e.g. parenting, schooling, or the STEM institution.

At an academic conference, I was told that women were not capable of the kinds of insight and success attained by men. I was told that if I liked science, the best use of my time was as a school science teacher. I notified the organising committee and the person in question was later awarded a conference prize.

The deterrents for women and minorities are in our homes, schools, and workplaces. When we grow up believing what we are taught, sometimes the deterrents are within ourselves.

Who is your biggest inspiration? Who do you think are the most inspirational women in science?

I'm most often inspired by the people around me. Everybody has their own struggles and success doesn't look the same for everyone. People, women and minorities especially, who get up to follow their passion despite the biases of those around them are impressive. The daily grind is hardest. The resilience and strength of people can be astounding.

If you were to talk to a 12-year-old girl with an interest in science, what would you want her to know?

The world is bigger and more wonderful than you can ever imagine. Nothing is certain, not even the bad things.

Were you encouraged to pursue STEM interests / a career in STEM?

Yes and no. I am very lucky and privileged to be able to work on what I love. I will continue for as long as I can!



Dr Laetitia Gunton

Technical Officer, Marine Invertebrates


What drew you to your particular research / science discipline?

I currently work as a Digitising Officer in the Marine Invertebrates department. To be honest, when I was growing up I never wanted to be a marine biologist, throughout my career I followed what I thought were exciting opportunities and it led me here.

What's the best piece of advice you've ever received?

"Just apply for it." Apply for the job/opportunity you never know until you try.

What is your proudest achievement/highlight of your career?

Submitting my PhD thesis, which was a culmination of four years of work on deep-sea worms.

Were you encouraged to pursue STEM interests / a career in STEM?

Yes, I was lucky enough to go to a school which had built a new science block just before I joined and there was a big emphasis on taking science subjects.



Dr Amy Way

Scientific Officer, Archaeology


What drew you to your particular research / science discipline?

Being able to spend time both in the field and in the office reading and writing.

What's the best piece of advice you've ever received?

Choose the option that best exposes you to new ideas and experiences.

What is your proudest achievement/highlight of your career?

Excavating Border Cave in South Africa with Professor Lyn Wadley.

If you could change one thing about the field you work in, what would it be?

More opportunities for early career researchers in science. There is adequate support for PhDs, but very few opportunities afterwards.

What do you think deters women from going into, or staying, in STEM careers?

It is extremely competitive so it's difficult to have career gaps to raise a family.

Who is your biggest inspiration? Who do you think are the most inspirational women in science?

Professor Lyn Wadley is one of the most inspiring women in science. She is a phenomenal scientist who built her career and drove archaeological research in South Africa in an age where women were regularly disregarded. https://trowelblazers.com/lyn-wadley/

If you were to talk to a 12-year-old girl with an interest in science, what would you want her to know?

It will be difficult, but it is possible. And it is worth it!

Were you encouraged to pursue STEM interests / a career in STEM?

Actually, quite the opposite - I was discouraged in high school from taking science. It wasn't until I did my Masters that I was really encouraged to pursue a career in STEM.



Dr Pat Hutchings

Senior Fellow, Marine Invertebrates


What drew you to your particular research / science discipline?

From an early age I was always looking in streams and rock pools for animals catching them and looking at them in detail before returning them to their habitat.

What's the best piece of advice you've ever received?

Never take no for an answer, there are always ways to get around things, and take advantage of often being the only female in the room or on the committee.

What is your proudest achievement/highlight of your career?

Seeing my students become my colleagues and lifelong friends.

If you could change one thing about the field you work in, what would it be?

Just to encourage more women to join the field and ensure that there is a career for them once they graduate.

What do you think deters women from going into, or staying, in STEM careers?

Not enough role models, difficult to find a permanent position.

Who is your biggest inspiration? Who do you think are the most inspirational women in science?

People who have succeeded - and risen to the top. Prof Lesley Hughes Macquarie University is very inspirational.

If you were to talk to a 12-year-old girl with an interest in science, what would you want her to know?

Follow your dreams.

Were you encouraged to pursue STEM interests / a career in STEM?

My teacher at school who taught Botany was very supportive and helped me choose my University.