Dr Caitlin Cowan, a microbiome-gut-brain relationship expert, has been announced as one of Australia’s newest Superstars of STEM.

The Superstars of STEM initiative from Science & Technology Australia encourages brilliant diverse scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians to step into the media spotlight by giving them the training, networks and experience to become sought-after media commentators in their fields of expertise.

Dr Cowan is one of 60 women and non-binary people announced to join the program by the Minister for Industry and Science, Ed Husic MP.

A star returns

Dr Cowan completed her PhD and Master of Clinical Psychology at UNSW Sydney in 2017. Now, Dr Cowan is returning to the School of Psychology to undertake postdoctoral research following a period as a National Health and Mental Research Council Investigator Fellow at the University of Sydney.

Dr Cowan studies the gut microbes of young children, exploring the roles that certain microbes might play in influencing children’s moods, behaviours and risk of mental health problems. Ultimately, Dr Cowan’s research aims to find ways that we can use microbes to protect and support young people’s mental health, putting them on the right track for a happy, healthy life.

(c) The University of Sydney / Stefanie Zingsheim

Science communication and representation

Dr Cowan has been continuously committed to improving her science communication skills and said she was thrilled to have been chosen as a Superstar of STEM from a highly competitive national field.

“It's such an honour to be selected for the Superstars of STEM program. I'm looking forward to levelling up my science communication skills and taking on new opportunities to share my love of science with the public, especially young people considering a future in STEM.”

Minister Husic has congratulated Dr Cowan and fellow Superstars of STEM on helping to inspire the next generations of diverse young Australians into STEM.

“The need to boost diversity in our science, technology, engineering and mathematics sector is urgent,” he said. 

"There are huge skills shortages that can be addressed if we put our minds and collective effort to it – which means we have to draw deeply on our nation’s expertise from all corners of the community.

“By doing so, we can deliver a stellar boost to our national economy and enable Australia to meet the growing demand for STEM-trained workers.”

Minister Husic is hugely supportive of the way the Superstars of STEM program pushes to deliver a diverse STEM workforce and ensures the next generation of scientists and technologists have visible role models.

“I just know these talented experts and communicators will play their part inspiring Australia’s young people – from all backgrounds – into science and technology.”

Science & Technology Australia Chief Executive Officer Misha Schubert said the program gave women and non-binary talent in STEM crucial skills and confidence to step into expert commentary roles in the media.

“We know it’s really hard to be what you can’t see,” she said. “That’s why this game-changing program is helping to smash stereotypes of what a scientist, technologist, engineer or mathematician looks like.

The University of Sydney / Louis

“By becoming highly visible role models in the media, these Superstars of STEM are showing our diverse next generations of young people - especially our girls and non-binary kids - that STEM is for them.”

Science & Technology Australia’s Superstars of STEM initiative is funded by the Australian Government’s Department of Industry, Science and Resources. Dr Cowan, and fellow newly announced Superstars of STEM, will be participating in the program in 2023 and 2024.

“Superstars of STEM is powerfully shifting the dial on diversity in Australia’s science and technology sectors. The Australian Government's investment in this world-leading program is bolstering diversity in a sector that will shape our future economy. We are so grateful for it,” added Schubert.