Recognising the challenges facing females in the traditionally male-orientated domain of science and engineering, international student Ruwangi Fernando is on a mission to help her peers achieve professional and personal success.
Thanks to a grant from Victoria University’s (VU) Student Experience Initiative, the Sri Lankan PhD candidate has set up STEM Sisters to attract, support and celebrate female graduate researchers undertaking science engineering, technology and mathematics (STEM) research at VU.
“As females, there are additional challenges we face such as juggling a career and raising a family that most males don’t have to worry about. It becomes even more difficult for women who are trying to build a career in traditionally male-orientated professions in STEM,” Ruwangi says.
“I set up STEM Sisters to help female graduate researchers achieve their career goals and contribute to social equality by ensuring women have a career-life balance,” she says.
“My vision to encourage female students to pursue careers in the STEM industry and learn what it is like to be a young female engineer, scientist or a researcher.”
As one of its first events, STEM Sisters held an inaugural afternoon tea last October to unite female postgraduate students from the College of Engineering and Science, Health and Biomedicine and Sport and Exercise Science.
With ongoing support, Ruwangi now hopes to organise networking events each semester to give female researchers the opportunity to showcase their work to the world and engage with prospective industry partners.
“For me personally, I hope that by bringing these women together, I can find some interesting people to work with so that I can take STEM Sisters to greater heights.”
Ruwangi, who is researching the impact of traffic congestion created by mass events to inform better town planning, says she “loves being at VU” because the people are “very supportive and welcoming”.
“I am glad I chose VU and Melbourne because it’s multicultural but you will also find people of your own.”
Beyond STEM Sisters, VU has a number of initiatives in place to support graduate female researchers, including the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) Program. As well as supporting current VU students, WISE runs hands-on workshops in STEM disciplines for high-school students. Visit the WISE website for more details.