Born in a small town in Brazil, Isis Rosa Ignacio spent three hours every day travelling to university on a crowded bus. She did so to earn her engineering degree and pave her career path against the odds.
There are many barriers on the road to achieving our dreams. This is especially true for women like Isis who forge ahead on their journeys despite the obstacles they face.
Isis was among a group of our superstars who recently attended the prestigious Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (ATSE) Awards in Canberra. This year’s theme was Breaking barriers: Realising Australia's technological advantage. We were proud to celebrate her achievements at this event, among many extraordinary people who are breaking barriers in their careers at CSIRO.
A bus ride of resilience
Isis’ challenges didn’t end when she finally arrived at university after that long bus ride.
“Even within the hallowed halls of academia, I faced adversity in the form of misogyny and prejudice, perpetuated by those I most admired – my very professors,” Isis said.
But she didn’t give up. Instead, she pushed herself further by learning English and moving to Australia. Here she found support and a community that believed in her potential to achieve greatness. This year she completed her PhD in metallurgy and is working at CSIRO as a postdoctoral fellow.
“My breakthroughs didn't come without sacrifice and perseverance. I spent countless hours in the lab and faced setbacks with unwavering resolve. But each setback only fuelled my determination to overcome it,” she said.
Isis wants to make a significant contribution to her field of research and be a role model for young girls.
Isis said attending the ATSE Awards was an amazing opportunity to meet brilliant minds and discuss how Australia is addressing new challenges.
“I had the chance to meet with other CSIRO colleagues and role models, which inspires me as an early-career woman in STEM.”
Dishing the dirt on diversity
In a field historically dominated by men, Nilo Karimian has dedicated her career to breaking barriers in environmental geochemistry and soil science engineering.
Nilo’s journey began with a deep love for nature and commitment to its preservation.
“My work focuses on environmental contaminants, delving into heavy metal presence in water sources, industrial pollution's effects on soil-water quality, and climate change's impact on geochemical processes,” Nilo said.
Having faced scepticism and prejudice while pursuing her studies and career, Nilo wants to change the path for those who follow her.
“As a woman in a male-dominated field, I promote inclusivity and mentorship. I support aspiring female scientists and foster diverse collaborations,” she said.
Despite the challenges she’s faced, Nilo said chasing her dreams has been immensely rewarding. She has contributed to scientific advancements benefiting environmental protection and sustainability.
“Environmental geochemistry thrives on diverse voices. I'm proud that I’ve helped to break down barriers that once hindered women's contributions,” she said.
Participating in the ATSE Awards was an incredible experience for Nilo.
“I had the privilege of meeting both distinguished senior Fellows and promising new Fellows.
“It served as a master class for me. It gave me invaluable insights, ideas and motivation to approach my research with even greater passion and energy,” she said.
When Selena Boyfield started working with researchers, she was confronted by their use of scientific jargon. But she also noted how dedicated they were to their work.
To help bridge the gap between science and commercialisation, Selena adopted a ‘walking in a researcher's shoes’ approach.
Selena immersed herself in their world. She attended seminars and read research papers to understand their language and work. Her mission was to translate complex scientific ideas into a language that investors and industry partners could understand.
“This immersive approach allowed me not only to comprehend their language but also to grasp the subtleties of their work,” she said.
By embracing the researchers' passion, she acts as a conduit between their dedication and the practical aspects of commercialisation.
“I encouraged them to envision their research as a transformative solution capable of improving lives and communities. This motivated them to take decisive steps forward,” she said.
Selena said the highlight of attending the ATSE Awards was being there among so many incredible and talented women.
Carving out space for culture
Starting as a cadet in 2009, Mibu Fischer has worked with CSIRO as a lab technician, research assistant and now marine ethnoecologist. During this time, she tried to avoid being pigeonholed based on her Aboriginality.
Mibu is a Noonuccal, Ngugi, Goenpul woman from Quandamooka country, in Southeastern Queensland. And she is proud of her ancestry. So, she became a ‘go-to’ Aboriginal person at work.
“Being one of only a few Indigenous researchers meant the cultural burden fell heavily on a small number of people,” Mibu said.
“And working as a researcher who happens to be Indigenous with the cultural load on top has meant effort focussed on cultural activities and engagement has taken away time from science,” she added.
This has been a barrier to Mibu’s career progression. It is one of the barriers CSIRO is committed to addressing but we still have a long way to go.
Mibu gave an address at the ATSE Awards Gala Dinner talking about her journey, cultural load, having a voice and creating space for young women coming up behind her. Sometimes, it can feel like she’s being used to tick a box.
“It takes a lot of energy to feel like I belong in spaces like this because of my accomplishments and not by identity,” she told the crowd.
Dr Marzi Barghamadi took home the David and Valerie Solomon Award for her research in energy storage devices and tackling some of the biggest challenges in battery research.
Our Sustainable Marine Futures Research Director, Dr Alistair Hobday was inducted as a 2023 ATSE Fellow.
Dr James Tickner from CSIRO spin-out company Chrysos Corporation Ltd won the Clunies Ross Technology Innovation Award.
Laila Halim, PhD student at Monash University won the Ezio Rizzardo Polymer Scholarship. Laila works on membrane separation, a promising technology for separating monomers in advanced recycling, with our Ending Plastic Waste Mission.