Commencing in 2018, the UNSW Women in Maths and Science Champions Program seeks to develop and promote women in STEM. The 12-month career development program supports research students and early career scientists who identify as women through developing communication, leadership and networking skills. The program provides Champions with the skills and confidence to build their public profile and positively impact the broader science community. As well as receiving development, Champions give back to the community by participating in outreach activities. These outreach activities aim to encourage and inspire girls and women to pursue a career in maths and science.

Women from the School of Optometry and Vision Science (SOVS) have participated in the program since the inaugural Champions cohort of 2018. The 2021 Champions are Fatima Iqbal, Sukanya Jaiswal, Azadeh Tavakoli, Melinda Toomey (PhD Champions) and Minh Phan (Early Career Scientist Champion) who are enthusiastic enough to promote science and career in STEM with some positive outreach activities including but not limited to ‘Speaking to young girls on Careers Day at North Sydney High School’ and ‘Sharing the importance of science with Indigenous Students’.

In early June, the first four Champion cohorts were joined by the current PhD and early career scientists’ cohorts at an Alumni event to promote networking. The women from SOVS were well represented both as attendees and presenters. Dr Lisa Nivision-Smith and Ngozi Chidi-Egboka spoke about their experiences as Champions and the ongoing benefit of being an alumnus of the program on their current development and careers. Presence of Lisa Keay, Head of School SOVS and Scientia Professor Fiona Stapleton on this event depicted their commitment to encourage STEM champions and promote this program. This event allowed past and present Champions to form connections that could lead to potential collaborations that will enhance the role of women in science.

The fields of optometry and vision science are vibrant, offering graduates many career pathways. Graduates of the Master of Clinical Optometry career pathways include clinical optometry practice in private, corporate or public health settings, engaging in research or teaching optometry. Career pathways for graduates of the Bachelor of Vision Science include employment in the ophthalmic industry, eye and vision research, orientation and mobility specialisation, and vision education.

To quote Professor Emma Johnson AO, “you cannot be what you cannot see”. Champions from the SOVS are being visible scientist by engaging in outreach activities to advocate optometry and vision science as viable career pathways to girls and women.