From Tuesday 19 July to Friday 22 July, I attended the ICWES15 Conference on a scholarship from the Victorian Division of Women in Engineering. On Friday 22 July, I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to launch the Robogals Science Challenge (a national competition for girls aged 5 - 18) in front of the entire delegation! I'm very grateful to the Victorian Division of Women in Engineering for giving me the opportunity to attend. These are the notes for the short speech I gave at a Women in Engineering dinner later in the year summarising my highlights and experiences of the Conference.
Arriving at the ICWES Conference in Adelaide on Tuesday, I made my way to the Gallery of South Australia. Never before in my life had I seen such big gathering of technical women representing such a diversity of cultures. It took me at least 2 days of the 3-day conference to get over that feeling of overwhelm!
What was really great was the number of scholarships that were given out to young women from all over the country. A Robogal (female university student who was to participate in our second Robogals Rural and Regional Weekend in Melbourne in August 2011) from Newcastle, who I had never met beforehand, was fortunate enough to also get a scholarship to the conference. Upon hearing that I was going as well, she contacted me and over the course of the conference, we became close friends. It’s little things like that that make conferences like these so special.
On Wednesday, I found Dame Professor Jocelyn Bell Burnell very inspiring. Jocelyn is an astrophysicist who is known for discovering the first four pulsars. Her groundbreaking work in this area led to a Nobel Prize for her supervisor, Hewish, even though it was Burnell's own initiative that revealed the presence of pulsars. She told a story where another woman said to her, “you have a husband, a son and a home to keep. Isn’t that enough?” But it wasn’t enough for her because she wanted to be intellectually challenged in her work. Her speaking about the challenges she faced as a women scientist made me appreciate that we live in a very different world now where it's more socially acceptable to even have women at work and contribute to the fields of science, engineering and technology.
On Thursday, the highlight for me was the CEO Circle, and the Gala Dinner. The CEO Circle was inspiring for me, as I enjoyed hearing top female executives from all over the country speak about their leadership challenges and lessons. I love the courage, confidence and self-belief all those women showed in order to rise through the ranks and make it to the top. The Gala dinner was a very festive affair with dancing, a fashion show and great food. I enjoyed seeing all these women scientists and engineers just have fun together.
One of the key people I connected with at the conference was the MC, Ms Bernie Hobbs, who is a popular panellist from the former ABC show "The New Inventors". She overheard me tell one of the CEOs after the CEO Circle about Robogals, and she said, "I think that's a great idea!" We then later bumped into eachother in the bathroom where she offered to help us out if she could. And so she became a judge in our inaugural Robogals Science Challenge! Not only is she a judge, but she was instrumental in encouraging Sally and Veena, also from the New Inventors, to come on board as judges, and in getting Dr Karl to tweet about the competition. All of which gave the competition a lot more credibility and added to our promotions.
ICWES15 was a very positive experience for me and I hope the friendships I formed there will last a very long time.
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