Explosive Science Engagement! Giving young women representation in STEM
I’ve had an incredibly exciting start to my career in STEM; I’m an Animal Ecologist, I’m a Ranger, and I’m a passionate Science Presenter/Communicator.
Currently I travel around SEQ with Street Science, bringing Seriously Fun Science to the stage and the classroom! I perform for and engage with literally hundreds of students a day, challenging silly stereotypes like “Science is boring!” and “Girls can’t be scientists!”. Behind the scenes I’m working on multiple Street Science projects to bring even more shows and workshops to students all around Australia.
Previously I was a Ranger on K’gari (Fraser Island), educating visitors on the island’s natural beauty, and am still aiming to spread my passion for the island as far as I possibly can!
I’ve also been involved in multiple research projects focusing on the biomechanical strategies to maintain adhesive performance among lizards, and applying these strategies to climbing robots!
As a Street Science Presenter, I travel to different schools around SouthEast Queensland every day, delivering explosive shows and engaging hands-on workshops which aim to inspire students to take up a career in STEM. As in an individual, I’m reaching up to 500 Queensland students every single week. If I’m inspiring even 5% of those students to take up a career in STEM, then I’m immensely proud of the benefit my work is having on future Queensland STEM professionals, and the opinion that our future leaders of Queensland hold of the world of science.
In my work as a Ranger, I was able to spread my passion for arguably one of the most incredible natural wonders that Queensland has to offer - K’gari (Fraser Island). K’gari is a UNESCO World Heritage Listed Site, the world’s largest sand island, and has a huge contribution to the Queensland Tourism Industry (on the scale of millions of dollars). As a K’gari Ranger, I was interacting with hundreds of international and local visitors to the island every day, reinforcing the importance of protecting not only the island, but all of Queensland’s stunning landscapes. The reaction I got from visitors was incredibly rewarding, and was usually one of surprise that such an environmentally and culturally rich tourism icon existed right here in Queensland, only a few hours from our capital city. I always made sure that the visitors that I personally interacted with were leaving K’gari with a newfound appreciation for all the natural wonders that the Queensland biosphere has to offer; this is a sentiment that I have held onto in my everyday life, even since leaving this role.
In my research as a postgraduate student at the University of the Sunshine Coast, I contributed to the growing field of biorobotics, by comparing the biomechanical strategies used by 39 different species of lizard and identifying the best adhesive performers; this data was able to influence the innovation of multiple climbing robot prototypes, and contributed to multiple publications. Therefore, my work has directly benefited the reputation that the University of the Sunshine Coast is gaining as one of the leading universities in Queensland.
As of 2022 in Australia, women make up only 36% of enrolments in university STEM courses, and just 16% of enrolments in vocational STEM courses. I believe that one of many reasons for this is a lack of female role models in Australian Science Communication. When I think back to who inspired me to take up a career in STEM, I think of role models like Dr. Karl Kruszelnicki, Dr. Rob (from the Australian Kids TV Show Scope), and the Surfing Scientist (Ruben Meerman). We can see a clear pattern that these are all men. Whilst these men have no doubt inspired countless STEM professionals, I never saw myself in those science personalities who I idolised so much as a child. I loved the world of science as a young child, even appearing as a Junior Presenter on Australian Kids TV Shows, Totally Wild and Scope. However, I feel that I veered away from this in high school, because of the idea that science wasn’t “for me”. It felt like an exclusive club that only the incredibly studious, serious boys could really excel at. I am fortunate enough to have found my way back to STEM in my later teenage years (through a love of animals), but I strongly believe that had I not felt so excluded from science in my formative years, I may have begun my STEM career earlier, and with more of an idea of what STEM has to offer to everyone.
I have interacted one-on-one with thousands of young girls throughout my career, both through my role as a Science Presenter, and as a Ranger. Before my career in STEM, I wouldn’t have thought this actually happens today, but some children I interact with will still say to me, “You can’t be a Scientist/Ranger! You’re a girl!”. Every day I challenge the stereotype that STEM is a “Boys Only” interest. I can’t count how many times I have seen a young girl’s face light up when she realised that her Ranger-Guided activity was being led by a woman, or that it was a woman who was using a flame-thrower to explode a Hydrogen Balloon in front of her and her peers. Although it may sound like an exaggeration, I swear that at least once a week throughout my career, I’ve had a young girl say to me “I never liked science, but after seeing you, I want to be a Scientist/Ranger when I grow up!”. It’s moments like those that make me so happy that I found my way into STEM, and why I think it’s so important that young women see more of themselves in their STEM Idols!
Science communication and engagement is currently the main focus of my work. I carry myself as an attentive, enthusiastic and inspiring presenter and workshop facilitator in my current role as Lead Presenter with Street Science. This is backed up by the many 5-star Reviews I personally receive from teachers at schools, educators at Outside School Hours Care Facilities, and parents of children at community events. To directly quote some of these reviews, “Tasmin had a lovely, calm demeanour when talking and interacting with the students. The students were engaged the whole time!”, “Amazing! Tasmin was a fantastic presenter and the show was super engaging.”. The shows and workshops that I provide under Street Science are designed for direct STEM engagement, are completely curriculum aligned, not to mention incredibly exciting and funny!
At the beginning of this year, I personally designed two new Street Science Classroom Kits, which deliver hands-on workshops to classrooms around the country. Whilst our in-person workshops are currently limited to SEQ due to travel limitations, the Classroom Kits can be delivered all over Australia! The design of these new kits involved innovating curriculum aligned experiments, and compiling all relevant materials, documentation, costing and instructional videos needed for classroom teachers to lead these experiments with their students.
Early this year, Street Science was approved for government funding for the SISTA Program, which is a commitment by Street Science to expand our reach of engagement to students all over Australia, but especially young girls. I will be directly involved with this program as a Lead Presenter; it will involve schools in regional Australia making a 3-year booking with Street Science. The idea behind this 3-year booking is that young girls will form a meaningful mentoring relationship with me, an inspiring female science communicator, that will carry through the formative years of their education. By having a consistent female-identifying STEM role model in their life, these young girls will see a career in STEM as an achievable, attainable and exciting opportunity.