In honour of International Women’s Day today (March the 8th), I wanted to look at the top ten women whom have inspired me to pursue a career in science. But, I couldn’t narrow it down any further, so the list is now eleven. I apologise for my bias, but I am an environmental biologist and anthropologist (at least that’s what I’ve studied), so they are the women whom have inspired me.
11. Marie Curie
Marie Curie won the Nobel Prize twice and is famous for her work with radioactivity. She was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize and the only one to win a Nobel Prize in two different fields (Chemistry and Physics). Thanks to the research that she did, x-rays became a thing. I know that she makes a lot of people’s list of inspiring women scientists just because of this, but that’s not why she makes mine.
It’s believed that Curie died because of her research with radiation, the many years of unprotected exposure was probably the reason she got aplastic amnesia and sadly passed away. I find it morbidly inspiring that someone can be o committed to her research that she eventually died of her work.
10. Natalie Portman
I love Natalie Portman for two reasons. Firstly, Star Wars, like all good science geeks, Science Fiction was my introduction to the world of science. And Star Wars was my introduction to SciFi. Two, she has a great academic standing and uses this to promote science for girls.Portman has a Harvard degree in Psychology. This academic background has helped her to promote STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths) careers to girls all over the world. I love that someone so stunning and obviously famous can also be academically brilliant and fight for girls to work in laboratories.
9. Rosalind Franklin
I can remember first really hearing about Rosalind Franklin in my first year biology course at University. She was painted as the unsung hero of DNA discovery. And, being the young, naïve girl that I was at the time, was shocked that Watson & Cricks would take credit for someone else’s work. I was also thankful that, even though she was already dead, she did eventually get highlighted and credited for the work that she did. What I wasn’t so aware of until recently was that she continued to work in other fields after her research was stolen. Ever since first year university, I have occasionally had to remind myself that I am studying and researching for my own interests, not so someone will recognise me. I think that Franklin was somebody who definitely did this, and I like to remind myself that this happens across the world and in the end, I can only do the work for myself.
8. Abby Sciuto
Alright, Abby Sciuto is not strictly a scientist. She’s a character in NCIS (one of my all time favourite shows, but let’s not fan girl out right now). But she definitely inspired me growing up. So much so that I actually applied for and was offered a degree in Forensic Science. I loved that there was this character who was crazy smart, got to play with a wide range of great technology to catch the bad guys, and constantly happy and in love with what she was doing. And really, that’s all I’ve ever wanted in life; to be smart, play with cool toys and be happy doing it.
What I didn’t know is that Pauley Perrette (the actor who plays Abby) also went to University and studied criminal justice. Another actor who embraced her academic life and her acting career. This just bumps her up the list in my eyes.
7. Deane Fergie
One of the professors at The University of Adelaide, Deane Fergie is an anthropologist. I took a course in Native Title Anthropology with her, and another in Ethnography (a method of data collection in Anthropology). Both times I was astounded by her ability to inspire her students and get EVERYONE engaged. A hard feat to achieve, especially when most of the students were using the subject as an elective, rather than actually having an interest in Anthropology.
What really placed Deane Fergie on my list was her story about fieldwork, she has faced some highly difficult situations, and has persevered. I found it very admirable that someone who is trusted with a people’s secret refused to break her silence and reveal their cultural secrets. Even when faced with legal action.
6. Katherine Moseby
I met Katherine (over the phone) at the end of last year when I was doing some fieldwork for one of her projects at Roxby Downs. I haven’t met many women in my field who have made a life of fieldwork, but Katherine has. She also was part of the team that started an amazing reserve out in Central Australia (Arid Recovery). The work she started almost 20 years ago is still going today and you can see the impact that one idea has had on our native plants and animals. Arid Recovery is the only place in South Australia that has some very rare species of native mammals still in residence, including the Greater Stick Nest Rat.
I’ve also recently discovered that she is also a great public speaker (a trait that I sadly don’t possess). Listening to Katherine Moseby talk about one of her current projects (yes, there are a few) made me want to jump up, travel to the Flinders and help find some Quolls.
5. Joy Adamson
When I first saw ‘Born Free’, I thought that it was just a nice, fanciful film about a lion. I didn’t realise that it was based on a true story. But, once my Dad told me that this woman actually managed to hand-rear and then reintroduce a lioness into the wild, I was hooked. Recently, I found out that she was not only an amazing conservationist, but also a writer. The two things that I would love to do with my life.
Thanks to Adamson’s writing, she managed to share the plight of African wildlife with the rest of the world. This was what helped to bring conservation in Africa to the global spotlight and helped to start many fantastic projects.
4. Margaret Mead
It’s hard to take an anthropology course without hearing the name Margaret Mead. She was a pioneer in anthropology, and played a big part into bringing it to public attention in the 50s, 60s and 70s. I don’t think I’ve gone a month without hearing the name Margaret Mead over the past four years, of which I am glad. Her first book, ‘Coming of Age in Samoa’ which was published in 1928 is still being printed today. I’m yet to read it, but for a book to be reprinted for almost 90 years is a pretty good testament to how good her work is.
3. Kathy Reichs
Lots of people have seen, or at least heard of, the TV show Bones. Some people even know that it is based on a series of books by Kathy Reichs. What some people don’t realise is that it is also based on the experiences and life of author Kathy Reichs.
Reichs’ work has promoted Forensic Anthropology across the globe. Now, when I tell people I study anthropology, I tell them that I study the same kind of thing as Bones, just without the bodies. If they want to know what environmental biology is like, I point them in the direction of Hodgins. But what I love most about the series (both written and filmed) is that it’s one of the few pieces in the media that is actually scientifically correct (or very close to). Reading her novels and watching the show, I recognise a lot of theories that I have learnt myself. Which in my experience, is rare in crime shows.
2. Dian Fossey
‘Gorillas in the Mist’ is another show that I grew up watching as a young child. If you haven’t seen it, it is something that I REALLY recommend!! In making this list, I can see that I am in total awe of women who put everything on the line to pursue their career and lives. People like Dian Fossey who risked everything to study Gorillas and turned them from a Great Ape, to a beautiful and gentle creature we can all relate to in the public eye. Sadly, it is believed that this same love and dedication led to her murder (which is still unsolved).
However, she has left an imprint upon the world, and her work still continues through the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International. Fossey not only showed a great amount of bravery and gumption, but also intelligence and integrity, it makes me want to become a better scientist and citizen of the world.
1. Jane Goodall
In today’s society, we have a lot of outspoken celebrities who argue for the rights of something, anything. And Jane Goodall is one of them, she has used her impressive knowledge and experience in a career spanning 55 years to fight for the rights of animals and our responsibility to protect them. She also understands the importance of having community involvement in all conservation efforts. As an anthropologist and conservationist (or at least aspiring), I think that combining conservation with community is important to create a sustainable future for everyone involved.
Goodall has completed a PhD, although never did a University degree. I love that the normal rigour of tertiary education doesn’t apply to everyone, and this really reminds me that if you want anything badly enough, you can achieve it (regardless of what the world throws at you).
So there it is my top eleven women of science. I hope you feel as inspired as I do. Just writing this has made me want to jump on the next plane to a far-away place and try to save the world!