Liggins Institute celebrates women in science
4 February 2020
February 11 is International Day of Women and Girls in Science. To celebrate, two women from Liggins Institute answer some questions about their science careers.
What first sparked your fascination or curiosity with science? Do you have an earliest memory of this?
Siobhan: Whenever my older brothers learned something in science class at primary school, they would rush home and tell my younger sister and I all about it. Their stories ranged from how birds knew where to go when the seasons changed, to what would happen if you put mentos in a bottle of coke. Their stories sparked my interest in science, and I became curious about how the world worked and why things happen. This interest led to me entering the local science fair competition when I was 10, taking science subjects throughout my high school years, and then continuing with it at University to see how science could be applied to solve real community problems.
Pania: I always enjoyed science when in high school, though it was chemistry and physics that interested me more than biology. There wasn't any one moment that sparked my interest, though I have always been a fan of nature documentaries and understanding how things work, which might have pushed me more towards science than other subjects. My fascination with biology really began when I switched degrees from engineering to Biomedical science after speaking with a friend who was undertaking the degree. My undergraduate degree really inspired me to continued studying in this area and even as I continue my PhD I'm still learning things that keep me fascinated.
How would you describe your area of teaching and/or research expertise to someone who isn’t from a science background?
Siobhan: My main interest is in exploring big health issues facing Pacific Island countries and working in collaboration with the community to influence positive outcomes for people. My PhD research is specifically focused on the non-communicable disease epidemic in the Cook Islands (e.g., heart disease, diabetes and cancers) and explores how the environment in the early stages of life can influence later health outcomes in adolescence, adulthood, and across generations. The most important part of this research, in my opinion, is looking at ways to translate the evidence we collect into real, meaningful outcomes for the community.
Pania: I look at how nutrition during pregnancy can influence the mother's health post-pregnancy and also influence her children's health in later life. This relates to DOHaD, the Developmental Origins of Health and Disease, which focuses on the importance of early life exposures on later life health. Specifically for my PhD, I'm investigating how artificial sweeteners during pregnancy can influence the child's later life reproductive and metabolic health.
The most important part of this research, in my opinion, is looking at
ways to translate the evidence we collect into real, meaningful outcomes
for the community.
Are there any other women in science who have inspired you on your journey?
Siobhan: My family has always been my main inspiration for pursuing science. My mum encouraged me to get involved in learning about science from a young age and both my older brothers pursued science-based careers. They always instilled confidence in me that I could achieve anything if I worked hard enough. More recently, I was inspired by Professor Francisca Nneka Okeke, a Nigerian physicist, who was awarded the Laureate of L’Oreal-UNESCO Award for Women in Science in 2013. She has overcome many challenges throughout her scientific career and is now using her platform to encourage and mentor the next generation of female scientists. The most valuable lesson I learned from reading about her is the importance of determination and commitment.
Pania: I am very lucky to have and have had a number of women in science that have helped and inspired my journey thus far. From my supervisor, Dr Clare Reynolds, who has been an outstanding, positive influence throughout my honours degree and PhD, to the number of enthusiastic female lecturers during my undergraduate years.
I am very lucky to have and have had a number of women in science that have helped and inspired my journey thus far.
What’s your advice you have for girls and women who are interested in science and pursuing a career in sciences?
Siobhan: My advice for girls interested in science would be to take as many opportunities as you can, particularly the ones that challenge you or make you feel uncomfortable, as these are the experiences from which you will learn the most. Science is more than just being able to conduct an experiment, so try new things and always say yes to opportunities that can expand your knowledge and skillset, such as leadership, teamwork, and public speaking.
Pania: Give it a go! There's never any harm in taking your time to figure out which direction you want to go! Find what interests you and go for it.
Siobhan Tu'akoi and Pania Bridge-Comer are both PhD candidates in Liggins Institute.
The International Day of Women and Girls in Science takes place on the 11th day of February to recognise he critical role women and girls play in science and technology.