Curtin University astronomy expert keen to smash gender stereotypes in STEM

Natasha Hurley-Walker will be part of 2019-20 Superstars of STEM program.
Natasha Hurley-Walker will be part of 2019-20 Superstars of STEM program.

CURTIN University astronomy researcher Natasha Hurley-Walker is on a mission to smash stereotypes in 2019.

The Willetton resident is one of 60 Australian female scientists chosen for the 2019-20 Superstars of STEM program for her work at the Curtin Institute of Radio Astronomy and the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research.

The program aims to boost the profile of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics to break down gender assumptions about science-based careers.

Dr Hurley-Walker said she was excited to be involved in the program and hoped to make STEM-based careers seem more viable to young girls.

“When you’re a kid, if you’re just seeing people who are different from you in a certain role, it’s sort of hard to imagine yourself doing that role,” she said.

“When people picture scientists, they picture Doc Brown from Back to the Future and while Christopher Lloyd is great, there’s actually quite a lot of women scientists out there.

“I’m excited to be able to show other young women who are maybe thinking they have to be in administration or they have to be a nurse or a carer of some kind, there’s actually scientists out there and we’re one of many careers actually open to women.”

An ABC Radio National Top 5 Science winner in 2018, Dr Hurley-Walker said it was important to challenge stereotypes early as children were programmed to pick up on gender stereotypes at a young age.

“I went in to my kid’s day-care last year and there was this little diorama set up and I couldn’t help but notice all the men were dressed in professional outfits – they all had roles defined by their jobs,” she said.

“All the female figurines were just in clothes, they didn’t have any particular roles, and I know my kids are seeing this, so anything I can fight the tide of stereotyping would be a good thing.”

Dr Hurley-Walker said diversity was vital to a successful workplace, which was why it was important to get as many women involved in STEM-related careers as possible.

“If you look at the management of companies, studies show if the executive team has good gender balance, on average those companies are about 20% more profitable,” she said.

“If you want to do good science, you don’t want to have all the same people working on the problem.”

Dr Hurley-Walker will be among a panel of women speaking at Curtin University’s Astro Fest on March 16.

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