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"The world is your oyster" - Women in STEM

11 Feb 2019

To celebrate the UN International Day of Women and Girls in Science on Monday 11 February, we spoke to some of the amazing women working in science and technology at Melbourne Polytechnic.

Dr Megan Dietze is a qualified veterinarian and the Head of Program of the Bachelor of Veterinary Nursing at Melbourne Polytechnic run in collaboration with La Trobe University.  Meg developed the Associate Degree of Veterinary Nursing  with the assistance of veterinarians, veterinary nurses and other invested parties and works as a senior lecturer in the course.  Veterinary medicine is an area with good representation of women – some courses report over 90% female students in their courses.  

Meg says “Vet nursing is an incredibly varied role with nurses expected to be anaesthetists and assist during animal surgery, radiographers taking x-rays, pathologists running tests for diagnosis, as well as managing reception, taking payment for treatment, booking in patients etc.

“To apply for the course students need at least 20 in English and 20 in either maths, chemistry or biology. We also look for experience working with animals, either paid or in a voluntary capacity.

Maths plays a part of the job as well.  Meg says "We create applied maths scenarios for our students, for example working out how many tablets a 20-kilogram dog would need. When you have real life situations to get your head around, it’s easier to understand the theory.”

To excel in vet nursing students need to have a passion for animals, as you’d expect.  A love of working with people is important too.  She says “A big part of the job is dealing with owners who are sometimes going through distressing situations and having to make difficult decisions.  Having good interpersonal skills and a non-judgemental approach is essential.”

Many vet nursing graduates go on to positions in vet clinics; one student is currently working with wild animals at Healesville Sanctuary and another student working with exotic pets at the Lort Smith welfare centre.

Dr Nicola Cooley is the program manager for agriculture and technology at Melbourne Polytechnic and teaches on the Bachelor of Agriculture and Technology Viticulture and Winemaking major. Her path into her current career wasn’t a straightforward one…

Nicola says “I didn’t go straight to university after school – instead I started working in the pharmaceutical industry. I was testing drugs for safety and learnt basic chemistry on the job, and I was lucky to be surrounded by female scientists who acted as great role models. I ended up going into university to study science, and learnt to grow plants while working in casual role in the nursey industry and at a garden centre. This combination of skills meant I ended working up for a University growing plants in controlled environments and enrolled into a PhD.   The knowledge I learnt led me to working with for CSIRO on wine grapes in Mildura.  Eventually my research teaching and industry experience lead me to working at Melbourne Polytechnic. I’m really happy with my career path – I’m intellectually challenged every day. I especially like learning from my students.

On gender diversity in the industry, Nicola says “traditionally men have tended to do much of the viticulture work in part due to the physical strength needed. Technology has stripped away those barriers – women are just as capable of operating mechanical harvesters as men.  I think it’s healthy for society to have diverse winemakers, it adds great creativity to the profession.”

Some woman come into the bachelor from our short courses where we teach some basics of wine making and wine tasting.  Another of her students worked as a technician in a laboratory and just before she completed the program part time was to the prestigious role of “winemaker”. Students tend to have lots of different backgrounds and so we encourage vintage work as part of the course.

Nicola has advice for anyone looking to get into STEM related careers. She says “If you know you want to work with plants or animals, and you can learn what you need to along the way. Some of the difficult theory can be taught through good teaching, so don’t be put off if you’ve had bad experiences with science or maths in the past.”

Joanna Jackson manages the Information Technology (IT) teaching programs, but she originally started her journey as a Melbourne Polytechnic student. Joanna says “After a few years of working in industry and taking a career break to have my children, I enrolled into a Cert IV in IT  at Melbourne Polytechnic (formerly NMIT) and worked developing software. I started teaching part-time before eventually taking on my current full-time role managing the IT courses available at Melbourne Polytechnic.”

It was curiosity that encouraged Joanna to pursue study in IT. “I’d been working in a variety of office roles and using computers regularly, but I wanted to know how the computer systems I was using actually worked – I wanted to understand the how and the why.”

Students can study IT at Melbourne Polytechnic at a variety of levels, from the Cert II in Computer Assembly and Repair up to a Bachelor of IT. Job prospects look good for qualified IT workers; IT is a core function of every business, many of the skills learned are transferable across multiple sectors and there’s possibilities for IT students to move into different areas of business, such as finance. 

Many companies are taking active steps to attract more female IT graduate. Joanna says “Many of our female students really excel in IT and businesses are crying out for more female applicants. A keen eye for detail is really useful in many IT functions.”

Joanna is positive about students interested in the industry “IT is a great industry to get into – it’s always changing, it’s never boring. It underpins and drives every sector, so if you choose IT – the world is your oyster!”