2023 Queensland Women in STEM Prize winners announced
Congratulations to the four outstanding women named as recipients of the 2023 Queensland Women in STEM Prize.
Now in its eighth year and presented by Queensland Museum Network, the Office of the Queensland Chief Scientist, and the Office for Women and Violence Prevention, the prize recognises women who are making a difference to the world, in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) fields.
The Judges’ Award was awarded to Dr Sue-Ann Watson, Senior Research Fellow and Lecturer from James Cook University and Senior Curator of Marine Invertebrates at Museum of Tropical Queensland, for her pivotal role in advancing research on Queensland’s marine life during environmental changes. Her research helps to both predict the impacts of environmental change on marine ecosystems and inform the effective protection and management of marine resources to help safeguard a healthy and resilient ocean environment.
Sue-Ann is passionate about communicating STEM to non-scientific audiences to foster better public understanding of science, and translates her research through museum exhibitions, talks, information sessions and citizen science projects. She is an ambassador and role model for women in STEM through her involvement in professional events and organisation and is a valued peer-coach for her women leadership colleagues who share the challenge of balancing work and parenting.
The Breaking Barriers Award was awarded to Dr Lena Oestreich from the University of Queensland for her work using artificial intelligence (AI) to prevent mental illness. Lena’s research uses AI to detect patterns and information in neuroimaging data that scientists were previously unable to identify, and can identify subtle forms of these patterns in people who are at risk of developing a mental illness. Her research helps these people to benefit from preventative interventions, which is far more effective than commencing treatment when mental ill-health has progressed.
The Highly Commended Awards were presented to:
• Dr Catherine Kim from Queensland University of Technology, for her research into coral rubble, using statistical models and machine learning to assist in maintaining the health of the Great Barrier Reef.
• Dr Jayishni Maharaj, from Griffith University, a researcher who is using digital foot models to pave the future for precision healthcare, and a co-founder of the Biomechanics Research Innovation Challenge, a project that aims to increase the participation of girls in STEM subjects.
Advancing research on Queensland’s marine life during environmental change
Sue-Ann is a Senior Lecturer at James Cook University and Senior Scientist and Curator of Marine Invertebrates at Museum of Tropical Queensland. Her research is helping to both predict the impacts of environmental change on marine ecosystems and inform the effective protection and management of marine resources to help safeguard a healthy and resilient ocean environment. Sue-Ann’s research focusses on how ocean acidification impairs shell formation and behaviour in marine invertebrates, and how this may alter marine food webs. She has found that some species can be more tolerant to warmer oceans and bleaching events, which helps with planning for tourism opportunities on the Great Barrier Reef. Her research determines how we can help marine invertebrates survive and adapt in a changing ocean and has broad implications for society because shellfish are critical for healthy oceans and are an essential food for millions of people worldwide.
Using artificial intelligence (AI) to prevent mental illness
Lena is trained in clinical psychology, neuroscience, and medical neuroimaging, and uses mathematical and engineering approaches in her academic research at the University of Queensland. Her research uses graph theory and artificial intelligence (AI) to predict who is at risk of developing a mental illness. AI is an exciting new tool which can detect patterns and information in neuroimaging data that scientists were previously unable to identify, and can identify subtle forms of these patterns in people who are at risk, but have not yet developed a mental illness. These people can then benefit from preventative interventions, which is far more effective than treatment when mental ill-health has progressed.
Mental health issues have a significant impact on Queenslanders and the state’s economy, with approximately 20% of the population experiencing a mental health condition each year. Lena’s research will lead mental health diagnoses away from self-report measures and outdated diagnostic criteria, and assist more people with mental illness by providing earlier diagnosis, reduced costs and better treatments.
Lena identifies with several marginalised groups which have made her journey incredibly difficult. Her strong passion for equity, diversity and inclusivity has led her to be involved in many domestic, institutional, and international committees. Lena strives to be a role model for her students and other women in science by openly talking about her struggles, and believes that STEM can only benefit from diverse perspectives and experiences. Lena is the chair of the Brain Art committee at the Organization for Human Brain Mapping (OHBM), the largest international conference for human neuroimaging studies, and facilitates neuroscience activities for children to learn about the brain and participate in scientific programs.
Rubble vs Recovery: Predicting where too much rubble could hurt the Great Barrier Reef
Catherine is a Marine Scientist at the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Queensland University of Technology. Her research focuses on coral rubble in the Great Barrier Reef, which is created when coral’s rock skeletons are broken down by wave action and storms. Unfortunately, due to increased threats such as coral bleaching and cyclones, the worry is healthy reefs can shift to have too much rubble which prevents baby corals from growing. Catherine uses spatial data in combination with modelling like machine learning to analyse such impacts to determine which of the 3,000 reefs are most likely to create coral rubble. Accurate prediction of which reefs will have too much rubble allows for efficient management and solution-finding to stabilise rubble and restore coral reefs.
Catherine’s work contributes to the pressing need to maintain the health of the Reef. This in turn will provide significant benefits to Queenslanders who earn their livelihoods from Reef industries, recreate in Queensland’s beautiful beaches, and are connected culturally with this unique environment.
Catherine knows firsthand what it feels like to not “see” herself in her field, and had no teachers who looked liked her in terms of gender and ethnicity throughout her formal education. She seeks to increase the visibility of women and minorities in STEM as a lecturer, supervising women who aspire to be researchers, and communicating her love of science to diverse audiences.
Digital foot models paving the future for precision healthcare
Jayishni is a researcher at the Griffith Centre of Biomedical and Rehabilitation Engineering and a Podiatrist. Issues with feet cause a significant burden to Queensland’s economy, both in healthcare costs, reduced work capacity and reductions in physical activity. Jayishni is passionate about changing this by challenging clinical practices and advocating for precision healthcare approaches. Her dream is to equip medical professionals with tools to precisely measure and signal areas of stress in the foot to facilitate precision medicine and behaviour modification. During her PhD, she developed a computer model of the foot to quantify the motion of its intricate bones. She now collaborates with other STEM experts to integrate the model to innovate additive manufactured (3D printed) medical devices to reduce diabetic foot ulcers and amputations.
Jayishni is one of the few female podiatrists to have obtained a PhD in Queensland, and creates opportunities to sustain a professional culture of inclusivity. She is the co-founder of the nationwide Biomechanics Research Innovation Challenge, a project that aims to increase the participation of girls in STEM subjects through the hands-on practical activities, mentoring, and showcasing diverse STEM careers. She is also the co-founder of International Women in Biomechanics (IWB), a not-for-profit organisation with the mission of also fostering an environment for women to gain support, visibility, and allyship.
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The 2023 Queensland Women in STEM Prize offers cash prizes:
* Finalists must be able to attend the award ceremony to be eligible to receive an award.
The Queensland Women in STEM Prize includes two categories:
Highly Commended Award(s) will be bestowed at the discretion of the judging panel to applicant(s) deemed to have demonstrated enthusiasm, dedication and commitment in their chosen field.
The 2023 Queensland Women in STEM Prize is open to any person who:
Applicants may include professionals, scientists, researchers, educators or students from any company, institute, government, university, not-for-profit or educational institution.
The Prize is open to any person within the first 15 years of their STEM career. The following will be considered towards 15 years of STEM career:
These 15 years are exclusive of time spent on leave, career breaks and study/work outside a STEM field.
Prize money must be spent on professional development – this could be a conference, research field trip, internship, purchasing new software etc. Winners are required to acquit their prize within 12-months.
Applications must be submitted by an individual. Teams are ineligible to apply. Entrants working as part of a team are encouraged to apply as an individual by focusing their application on their contribution to the team project.
Previous winners of the Queensland Women in STEM Prize are ineligible. If you have entered a previous Queensland Women in STEM Prize, but did not receive an award, you are welcome (and encouraged!) to enter again.
Submitting a video is required for your entry to be deemed eligible.
Try contacting your organisation's media and communications department who may be able to help in producing and creating your video. Or you can do it yourself by following some of the tips below. You could also review some of the past winners' videos for inspiration.
Here are a few tips for filming your video. Remember, the judges will be assessing your content and your ability to articulate your work in STEM, not your video production skills.
Embedding your video is the only way to present your video. You must upload your video to another site like Youtube, Vimeo or Google Drive first - then follow their instructions to copy the embedding code into the application when it asks you. Links to the help guides to help you find the right code to embed are below:
The awards will be determined by a panel of judges, including representatives from: