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09 Feb 2024

Inspiring the next generation of female scientists: Meet high school student Charlie, future STEM superstar

Meet Charlie, high school student in NSW, passionate about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and a fervent advocate for equal access to and participation in science for girls and women. 

To celebrate International Day of Women and Girls in Science (February 11), we put the spotlight on Charlie who inspired us and many others with her short film about her “STEM hero”, Professor Laura Mackay, internationally renowned immunologist and lab head at the Doherty Institute.  

Charlie’s short film won the She Did What? competition run by The Girls in Stem Toolkit (The GiST), celebrating the achievements of Australian women in STEM. 

Professor Mackay said she was incredibly humbled to be featured by Charlie as a “STEM hero”. 

“I am grateful to have been inspired and mentored by brilliant female colleagues throughout my career and am proud to now have the opportunity to serve as a role model to the next generation of young scientists,” said Professor Mackay. 

“It is incredibly fulfilling to see young students with passion for STEM like Charlie, and who give us great optimism for the future of scientific discovery.” 

We interviewed Charlie to find out more about how she fell in love with science and what she thinks could be done to encourage more girls and women to step into careers in STEM. 

Hi Charlie, what first got you interested in science? 

In primary school, I liked in science, but I was more interested in art and history. It’s in high school that my passion for science really blossomed. It was my first experience taking a good look at science and how important it is in our world. My teacher made the subject so engaging and I took an interest in chemistry almost immediately.  


What aspects of STEM subjects particularly captivate you? 

What really interests and captivates me in STEM is the idea that what you’d create could help other people. This pushes me to strive for the best outcomes in all my STEM-related classes. I also admire the building process, the hands-on stuff has always kept me interested in STEM subjects.  


Are there any science projects or experiments you’ve done in school that ignited your passion for science? 

It was probably one of the simplest experiments that sparked my interest in science! Most people are familiar with the mouldy bread test. We did this classic experiment back in primary school, and I found it super interesting. This slowly led me to loving science. 


Have you faced any challenges or stereotypes as a young girl interested in science?  

I have never experienced much discrimination in any of my classes, however, I was one of two girls in my STEM elective last year and I was worried that I would experience some gender stereotype challenges from my classmates. But as the year went on, I experienced no discrimination at all from my class of almost all boys. I felt a bit disappointed that more girls might have chosen STEM as an elective if the stereotypes around this field weren’t as strong. I want to help girls in this situation to overcome these stereotypes and encourage them to pursue STEM. 

Are there any female scientists or figures who inspire you, and why do they resonate with you? 

There have been many female role models in my life, many of which worked in STEM-related jobs. Two of them are my science teachers from last year, both female and both amazing. They encouraged me to learn about stuff that interests me, and they had a positive approach to everything. Some of other figures in my life who have inspired me are my mum, my family friend Leeanne (who works in cancer research), and of course, Professor Laura Mackay.  


Can you tell us more about how Professor Mackay has inspired you for this video? 

When I found Professor Mackay's profile on the Doherty Institute website, I was fascinated by her research and her goals of creating a new treatment for cancer and other diseases. With further research, I discovered how intelligent and passionate Laura was about her research. During the making of this video, I never seemed to lack inspiration from her work and achievements. Her determination has inspired me to make this video and probably make many more in the future. Not only did she encourage me to give my best in STEM, but also in every other subject and project I love.  


In your opinion, how can schools and communities better support girls who have an interest in STEM subjects? 

I believe if our communities and schools start to discourage stereotypes more, female students would be encouraged to pursue subjects are interested in like STEM. Releasing more projects, just like the She Did What? project, will also inspire more women to break stereotypes and challenges. 


Looking ahead, what career in STEM do you envisage for yourself? 

I would love to work in an engineering career, possibly in biomedical engineering. I love all areas of engineering and the massive impact it has on our world. Any job where I will be able to help those who need it the most. While I’m not entirely sure about the specifics of my future job, it will definitely be a STEM-related job!  


We think you’re on track to becoming a very inspiring STEM superstar! What would you say to girls in your school and beyond to pursue science? 

To young women everywhere, do what you love and don’t let stereotypes and challenges get in the way of your passion! Try your hardest! Hopefully I can inspire my female classmates and every young woman to pursue their interest in science and STEM in general. Thank you to the Doherty Institute for giving me this amazing opportunity!