The world of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) offers the promise of solving real-world problems – like powering our lives with sustainable energy. But, it’s also a world filled with cool people fulfilling their dreams of producing life-changing work.
So, who are these problem solvers inside the STEM world?
For decades it was just men in white lab coats, but that is changing. Science and Technology Australia (STA) is an organization that aims to alter that mindset through recognising talented women in the industry with the Superstars of STEM program. ExxonMobil’s Carolyn Thomas is one of 60 women who has earned this recognition through her passion and commitment in the STEM community.
Energy Factor had the pleasure of learning more about Carolyn and her career.
Energy Factor: How do you think this recognition from STA to women in STEM, like you, will change the mindset about women in the field?
Carolyn Thomas: The Superstars of STEM program raises the profile of women in the field and is changing the face of what an engineer or scientist looks like: a fresh-faced, dynamic woman who resembles your sister or your mum! As public perception of engineering and science changes, it opens doors for women seeking promotions or careers in these fields.
EF: You have been involved in STEM since your university days, where you encouraged year 11 students to pursue careers in this field. Have you seen the success of what you’ve done?
CT: I certainly have. Many bright students I’ve spoken to thought medicine or law would be the only fulfilling professional career choices. However, through facilitating discussions with veterans in the STEM industry, these students realised how much more latitude they could have with careers in the STEM arena, and the difference they could make to society. Awareness opens doors.
EF: How do you change perceptions around a career in STEM for future generations?
CT: Igniting curiosity and interest is key in steering young people to want to be a scientist or engineer when they grow up. I’ve encouraged that in schools through hands-on activities from dismantling a microwave oven and figuring out how it works, to making acid/base indicators with red cabbage and testing it with common household products. As a child, I thought that engineers did something with engines! I want little girls to know engineers solve real-world problems every day in nearly every industry, beyond just engines.
EF: How do you make a career in STEM appear fascinating to younger women?
CT: I solve real-world problems! What I do ensures that we produce gas from the Bass Strait safely and without harming the environment, to fuel industry, heat homes and power our economic prosperity. I could be in the office today and in a helicopter tomorrow heading offshore – there’s never a dull moment!