Forget Barbie: Meet CSIRO’s real-life STEM role models

June 14th, 2024

There’s a powerful woman who’s been inspiring and exciting children for over six decades: the iconic Barbie!

The plastic powerhouse has not just been a much-loved companion for children and grown-ups alike. She’s also had an illustrious career journey, with more 150 jobs under her fashionable belt.

From exploring the cosmos as an astronaut in 1965, to spearheading the sustainability movement as a Chief Sustainability Officer in 2022, Barbie has been breaking stereotypes and paving the way for young minds to dream big. Her recent roles have largely been in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) careers.

As Australia’s national science agency, we understand the value of STEM career visibility, especially for girls and women, all too well. With more than 5000 scientists, researchers, engineers and experts within Team CSIRO, we’re working to solve the world’s greatest challenges through innovative science and technology. But we can’t do it without recruiting the most imaginative problem solvers, impact-driven minds, and bold change-makers in the business.

So, pop on your hot pink lab coats and meet just a few of our STEM leaders paving the way in roles once held by Barbie.

Microbiologist: Dr Rozita Spirovska Vaskoska

Dr Rozita Spirovska Vaskoska is a Senior Scientist and Team Leader in our Agriculture and Food team. ©  Mattel, Inc.

I’m a food scientist who advises industry on food safety and quality issues. For example, if a food company wants to put a new product on the market, I help them make sure the product and their process is safe.

I’m also a team leader and manage six staff, all also food microbiologists. They’re based in Melbourne and Brisbane.

I feel passionate about managing food safety based on science. Ever since university, I’ve loved working with food. The food we eat contributes to our health, and we need to make sure the way food is produced and handled does not cause foodborne illnesses.

My main tip for aspiring microbiologists is that investing time and effort in your learning and education will be very rewarding in the long run. What feels tough and challenging at times during those years at university will make sense when your effort has taken you to your dream job. And your personal development as part of the academic community will be a bonus.

Most of my education from high school to my postgraduate studies has been financially sponsored by merit-based scholarships, meaning that if you are driven, persevere and keep learning, opportunities will emerge and take you places.

Robotics Engineer: Lauren Hanson

As Senior Mechanical Engineer in our Robotics and Autonomous Systems Group, Lauren Hanson designs and builds robots and the systems that support them. ©  Mattel, Inc

I love my work as a Senior Mechanical Engineer in our Robotics and Autonomous Systems Group, where I design and build robots and the systems that support them. We’re a world leading robotics research group, working on technology to remove humans from dirty, dull and dangerous situations.

I find research exciting because it always has new, interesting and complex problems to solve. My work covers earth and space robotic applications, including search and rescue missions, and a current mission to map the inside of the International Space Station as a technology demonstrator for future exploration applications.

Astrophysicist: Dr Karen Lee-Waddell

Dr Karen Lee-Waddell is the Director of the Australian SKA Regional Centre (AusSRC). Her role helps support astrophysicists to use current and next generation radio telescopes. ©  Mattel, Inc.

I’m the Director of the Australian SKA Regional Centre (AusSRC), helping to build data intensive research capabilities to support astrophysicists (like me) using current and next generation radio telescopes.

I love being an astrophysicist! I get to use the most advanced telescopes in the world to try to understand the Universe. With rapidly improving technology, we are seeing deeper into the cosmos and in more detail than ever before. The opportunity for new discoveries is almost endless! There is still a lot out there that we do not know, but by working together with researchers across the globe, we hope to solve some of the greatest mysteries that lay ahead in the still unknown.

Looking back, I would never have thought I would be in this role as a child. But I worked hard, enjoyed the journey, and truly love where I am today.

Renewable Energy Engineer: Kate Cavanagh

Kate Cavanagh’s role as Research Manager in the CSIRO Energy Systems (ES) Program contributes to the energy transformation to make the world a better place. ©  Mattel, Inc.

As a renewable energy researcher at CSIRO, I lead the expansion of research facilities in the energy sector.

I get excited about my job because I’m contributing to accelerating the energy transformation and making the world a better place. I help people understand energy, save money and create less emissions. The energy scene has so much to offer and so many great opportunities to make sustainable impact.

My advice for young people entering the energy arena is to ask questions fearlessly, embrace opportunities and be open to trying something new and different. You don’t have to be super technical, just have passion and willingness to learn.

Computer Engineer: Dr Muneera Bano

Dr Muneera Bano’s work as a Senior Research Scientist at CSIRO’s Data61 involves weaving diversity, inclusion, and equity into the fabric of artificial intelligence. ©  Mattel, Inc

My work as a Senior Research Scientist at CSIRO’s Data61 involves weaving diversity, inclusion, and equity into the fabric of artificial intelligence (AI). From being a superstar of STEM, recognised as the ‘Most Influential Asian-Australian Under 40’ to receiving accolades from the Pakistani Government, my career has been marked by the unwavering pursuit of breaking down barriers and reshaping attitudes towards scientists from diverse backgrounds. And it’s all thanks to my STEM education and career.

My advice to people starting their career is this: STEM fields are not exclusive domains for a privileged few; they are arenas for the curious and passionate minds that seek answers and innovation. Embrace your unique perspective, foster an unquenchable thirst for knowledge, and let your own story inspire your journey through STEM.