Professor Sally McArthur
Director, Swinburne Innovation Precinct, OCE Science Leader at CSIRO Manufacturing
The very first Femgineers profile is on Professor Sally McArthur, who I had the pleasure of meeting at a BioMelbourne Network event in March. She chaired a session on the research to industry pipeline, and I was struck by both her extensive knowledge (on seemingly every field!) and her warmth.
I reached out to her to get a bit of a better idea of her path to becoming the wonderful STEMMer she is today, and she had some great advice;
What is your involvement in engineering/STEM at large?
While I initially trained as a materials engineer, my research is more in biomedical engineering and biomaterials. I work at the interface between materials, biology and technology. I am just starting some new projects with CSIRO looking at developing 3D cell culture systems that will fill the gap between traditional 2D cell culture on plastic and animal or human clinical tests. These systems need to combine a whole range of different things - I like to think of it as curating – tissue engineering, biophysics for the imaging and sensing, biotech and bimolecular science for the signalling and clinical and biomedical sciences for identifying the real needs and applications of the systems and defining the actual problem they can solve/gap they can fill.
What inspired you to go into your field?
I loved the idea of biomaterials during my degree, and only got to study one course on it, but from there I was hooked. I originally chose materials as I was interested in pottery and how glazes formed different colours, properties and textures in the kiln – I did all the standard science and maths subjects in school but I also did art – I wasn’t that great at it, but I was always curious about the chemistry involved.
What challenges have you faced as a woman in STEM?
It is the everyday sexism - little things - that I think we all encounter. Also along the way it can be isolating being the only women at a dinner or event (again). I have balanced this by always trying to create strong networks, having people who I trust, both male and female, trying to ensure I am being myself as much as possible, playing to my strengths of enthusiasm and engagement to bolster me when I know I am faking it all the way! Most people think I am really outgoing, and most of the time I am, but some of the time that is a game face. I know I will understand and learn more if I reach out and connect to as many people as I can.
What advice would you give to young women in STEM?
Stay strong, find your niche that excites you and that hopefully you are good at as well! If you are unsure, keep pushing, explore further, ask questions and find you tribe. Life doesn’t have to be all about being a women in STEM - it can be about just being a woman, a human, an excitable being and an enthusiast or a quite achiever, a builder and a contemplator. Curiosity, a need connect with people and be part of building something new or different that I think may change or improve something. And the ability to have a great chat about nothing much/everything over a coffee/wine/food.
Finally, what's something (unusual) that keeps you going every day?
Curiosity, a need connect with people and be part of building something new or different that I think may change or improve something. And the ability to have a great chat about nothing much/everything over a coffee/wine/food.
For more information, check out Professor McArthur's Google Scholar profile, ORCID profile, news articles here and here, as well as this wonderful video of her discussing her research interests;