In honour of International Women’s Day 2020, the Navigator team decided to highlight some of the amazing women doing inspiring things right here at UON.
PhD candidate Emmalee Ford is working to change the way women think about fertility and reproductive health.
The 26-year-old scientist is delving into two main points of research: on the molecular level, she’s examining an ovarian process which, if triggered too quickly or too soon, can lead to loss of eggs and early menopause.
“Normally per cycle one egg is ovulated, but so many get switched on to grow and maybe the best one is picked, so I’m looking at that process…” Emmalee says the research is largely unchartered territory, as these reproductive functions are not yet understood.
Emmalee is also looking at the way women access fertility information on apps, with an early study from the USA indicating that only 18% of reproductive health apps relayed reliable information. She says she’s passionate about raising women’s awareness on the signs that something is wrong.
“When people’s periods stop, there are a lot of medical reasons why that could happen, but some people are just happy not to get them…but it’s generally an indication that something in your health is wrong,” she says, “I think simple messaging around what’s normal, what to look for [is important].”
Having started at UON in 2011 studying a combined Bachelor of Education (Secondary) and Science, Emmalee has used her passion for scientific literacy among children to mentor girls through the Robogals program, which ran at this university for five years and saw about 2000 high school students a year learn principles of engineering and robotics.
The PhD candidate is also an active member of the UON Women’s Collective and says she was proud to be a part of the group’s advocacy on behalf of victims of sexual assault to improve the reporting processes on campus.
Emmalee describes International Women’s Day as one of her favourite times of the year. “I like to celebrate it, because I think myself and so many other people who are activists spend so much time arguing and advocating – being so passionate can feel like anger a lot of the time. So it’s good to take a moment to pat everyone on the back and appreciate where we are.”
Proving that it’s never too late to change your life Mary Graham is a mature-aged student and soon-to-be Bachelor of Creative Industries graduate.
It would seem the pressure to know what you wanted to do when you finished school was just as prevalent in the 70’s as it is now. When asked why nursing seemed like the best path, Mary described her thought process, “Get pregnant? No, boring. Go to Nimbin, get stoned and play guitar? Nah, mum would be disappointed and I didn’t like to disappoint her. Stay in Walcha and work in a shop? What? No! I wanted to go to the big smoke. Nursing? Yes, you earn money, get to leave home and be independent, and your mother thinks you are good. So, nursing it was.”
Although often rewarding, Mary’s work as a nurse wasn’t always smooth sailing. In Mary’s final position before retiring, herself, and many of her colleagues, were subject to organisational mistreatment in an already understaffed and underpaid healthcare industry. “Bullying was rife. I was targeted at one stage and it was horrendous, leading to major depression, thoughts of suicide and dissociative stress with time lapses. It was a really horrible time and I barely lasted until retirement in 2015.”
Image: Mary (far right) discussing her work at Watt Space Gallery
Deciding that 40 years was enough in her “job, not career,” Mary focused her attention on creating things, a talent and passion she had developed for the previous 10 years through self-study and weekly classes. “Painting and creative art practice was always something I wanted to do when I retired and financially I would not have been able to pursue it any earlier – even though I would have loved to.”
After completing a Cert III in Design Fundamentals, Mary knew her love of creativity was the path she wanted to follow and enrolled at UON after commencing online studies in a Bachelor of Fine Arts. “I found that I wasn’t getting enough out of online study and decided to find a place to continue studying in the studio. UON was the obvious choice as it was so close to home,” explained Mary. Inspired by a number of female artists including India Flint, Irit Dulman, Barbara Di Pietro and Joanne Broederlow, Mary chose to major in Visual Arts. “My work has a strong botanical focus. I use eco dyes, paints and print techniques to highlight the connection we all have to nature and the world around us.”
But the field of fine arts hasn’t always been so lucrative for women. “There have been studies on differences in recognition of female and males artists. Without studying them, I would find it difficult to comment although I will say that women are the fabric that holds society together, tenacious, strong, tender and loving, caring, watchful, intelligent, multi-taskers, hardworking and beautiful. In all areas of life, they should be celebrated more.”
As for advice for anyone wanting to change their career and life Mary spoke candidly. “If you are unhappy in your work, do your best to find something that brings you joy. Explore the things that you feel align with your own values in life. Go do what your heart tells you and know that more often than not, money is not the answer. It is better to be poor and happy than wealthy and miserable.”
Mary’s final year collection of works titled “Commune With Nature” will be on exhibition at the Watt Space Gallery from the 6th to the 29th of March.
You can find Mary’s work on her Instagram and Facebook: @chookarts
Morgan Anderson, a 22-year-old Environmental Science and Management student, has always had a passion for the oceans of the world. She was drawn to her field of study, and her major of Marine and Coastal Studies, after travelling them and witnessing firsthand the pollution affecting our planet’s most beautiful seas.
She desires to make a difference, and her message to us is: “Everybody can play a part in helping the environment.”
Anderson is also passionate about the empowerment of women, saying “there are lots of ways to empower women. It can be as simple as being there.”
To Morgan, being an empowered woman means not being afraid to speak up or voice your opinion. In the traditionally male-centric sphere of science, Morgan refuses to be silent. She is hopeful for the future of women in the sciences.
“Every year we’re closing the gap,” she says. “More and more women are getting involved every year.”
She’s in her first year of university, “so I’ve got a while to go,” she laughs. But there’s plenty ahead.
Morgan’s plans for the future involve “making an effective difference” in the health of the world’s most vulnerable oceans.
Her advice for women thinking about following their passion is, “go for it. Definitely.”
Students can show their support for IWD by attending UON’s celebration on the 10th of March on Park on the Hill, Callaghan Campus. From 11am – 2:30pm University entities including Student Central, Newcastle University Students Association (NUSA) and the Women’s Collective will be set up providing students with information regarding IWD, free food, live music and holding workshops with all students encouraged to come along.
You can also get involved by attending one of the three Empowerment and Leadership workshops hosted by the university or register to attend the Women in Leadership workshop run by NUPSA this Friday the 13th of March.
Feature image: courtesy of Emmalee Ford