As a mid-career scientist specialising in the field of Experimental Social Psychology, Megan Oaten is among a small but growing group of women pursuing a career in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), hoping that others will follow where they lead.
“Women are equally represented in sciences at university, in post-graduate studies, and at doctorate level”, Megan says, “but once you enter the post-doctorate phase the numbers drop significantly. At the senior levels it’s a male dominated space.”
Homeward Bound, which Megan has been selected for this year, is an initiative which intends to change this, through their program aimed at increasing the presence of science-minded women in policy and decision making roles.
Participants receive a year-long mentorship which includes career coaching, collaborative research opportunities, mentoring meetings and networking. It culminates in a three-week trip to Antarctica in February 2018, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
“This program is really about creating a network of women across the globe. We’re aware that we are stronger together, and we support each other into our leadership positions,” Megan says.
Megan will be joining 79 others, all highly qualified women from around the world, as part of the second intake of participants in the Homeward Bound program and voyage. They’ll include PhD students, professors, research scientists, climate scientists, engineers, science communicators, marine ecologists and more.
A high school drop out, Megan is keen to show young women that their experience at high school doesn’t determine what they can do in life. Megan left Kadina High School after year 10, moving to Sydney to work in order to go out on weekends, see bands and travel. After becoming bored with the routine, Megan began a degree in Psychology at Macquarie University at the age of 27.
“It was a really scary endeavour, because I had no evidence to suggest that I had the capacity to do it,” she says. Turns out she did.
“I graduated with first class honours, was awarded a government scholarship to do my PhD and got an Australian Research Council funded post-doctorate position.”
Moving up through the ranks of science academia while raising a family with her husband, Will, has not been easy. When she became pregnant with her first son, Seth, not long after completing her PhD, Megan faced judgement from all sides for wanting to continue her career alongside parenting.
“You get judged for not leaving your job, for being a bad mum, but men don’t leave their careers once they become parents, and I’ve worked just as hard as them,” she says.
After she became a parent, Megan found she was no longer referred to as a ‘scientist’, as male colleagues with children were, but as a ‘mother’.
“I’d like female post-doctorates to know that you can get through it, and you can have a family and have a research career. You’ve just got to hang onto that lifeboat a little bit harder than everybody else.”
Megan has just signed on for the Scientists in Schools program, in which women in STEM-related research visit high schools to encourage girls to take those subjects and to open their eyes to the different pathways scientists can take.
Now that she is an established researcher and senior lecturer at Griffith University, Megan has come through the uncertainty and way-finding that younger female scientists encounter, and she is keen to make it easier for those coming after her.
“Now I’m on the other side, I would really like to consolidate the knowledge I’ve got today so that I can go into policy and push up against that door that keeps slamming for women and be a part of that change.”