The buzz
about being
a woman in science

UQ Faculty of Medicine graduate Clare Van Dorssen is used to facing tough questions as co-host of Channel Nine’s BrainBuzz. But there’s one recurring question that’s important to Clare to answer.  

In a nutshell, I’m a biomedical scientist with a Master of Science Communication Outreach. I’m working as a science communicator on BrainBuzz – a national children’s science program on Channel Nine.  I am not an actor which is what many people assume my profession to be.

On UN International Day of Women and Girls in Science, I want to share something I experience working on BrainBuzz. When I’m filming the show and introduced as the scientist, the question I am most often asked is, “So are you the actor playing the scientist?”

The question isn’t delivered with malice, just curiosity, and to my disappointment, met with disbelief when I answer, “No, I actually am a scientist.”

Although I’m disappointed at the regularity of this question, I’m never angry. As women in STEM, I feel that we will make more of a difference with educational responses rather than curt replies. It’s also important to note that I don’t hold any resentment to those asking the question, or to men in STEM. In fact, the people who consistently and stoically correct this assumption are my male crew members.

The truth is, it’s not fair to be angry because I can understand why people assume I’m not a female science communicator. They are just not used to seeing us – only 16 per cent of Australian tertiary STEM university graduates are female and very few of them will be recognised in mainstream media.

I do believe with enough time and opportunity to share stories like mine, we will continue to destroy stereotypes. We already have many high profile pioneering science communicators in the media like David Attenborough, Brian Cox, Dr Karl and Neil deGrasse Tyson. But, they are all men.

So my challenge to you is this – try and think of famous females in STEM. I’ll bet that if you’re not in a STEM field yourself, it’s likely you can’t name many. Now it’s up to you to go and find some. Here are a couple of my favourites to get you started: Lisa Harvey-Smith, Lee Constable, Mary Roach and Dianna Cowern.

What females in STEM can do is spread the word and continue to answer those questions, so that people won’t continue to make incorrect assumptions.

With the help of days like the UN International Day of Women and Girls in Science, my ideal future is where we no longer label science communicators as male or female ­– just as great scientists. Then, maybe, my challenge won’t be necessary.

Hear some of UQ Medicine's researchers explain why they enjoy being a women in science.