To launch the “Role Model’s in STEM” series, we caught up with Toby Hendy, a recipient of the 2017 ANU Westpac Future Leaders Scholarship who will begin her PhD in Physics in August at the Research School of Physics, ANU. Here’s what she shared about her experiences in STEM:

What do you like most about science/Physics and why?

I am drawn to science because of the way that it fosters my curiosity. There is a certain beauty to be found in using science to look closely at details in the world around us that might otherwise get overlooked. I think that we are lucky to be born at a time where there is so much existing knowledge and it would be a shame to ignore it by not learning science.

 Who inspired your scientific career and why?

Most of my exposure to science was through documentaries on TV. I then moved on to watching educational content on YouTube. These videos would usually leave me with further questions of my own. I owe my interest to passionate science communicators who provided a spark for me to start researching and finding answers to my questions.

 At ANU Fifty50, we believe in gender equity and strive towards this – why do you think this is important for science?

Science is amazing in that it has the potential to solve many of the problems facing the world today. However, we can’t solve any of these problems if the population isn’t represented. We can’t even begin to gain an understanding of how the world works if we are excluding parts of it.

 Any advice for young people, especially women thinking about pursuing a career in STEM?

I’ve got this far by pursuing things that challenge me. I’m not sure why I am drawn to a challenge but I ended up in physics by going after the ideas that always seemed the hardest to tackle. Other than always looking for a way to step out of your comfort zone, my advice to aspiring scientists would be to not wait for someone else to teach you what you’re interested in. You need to take charge of your learning and get good at constantly teaching yourself new ideas. Let people inspire you but always follow up your questions with your own research. The joy of being lost in a rabbit-hole of learning is, for me, the best part of science.

What additional insight can you provide about fostering a positive environment for students in their chosen academic path?

The participation of women and other minorities in science increases in inclusive environments. I would love to see people become more aware of their unconscious biases and how these may be affecting other people. One of the studied examples of biases towards women in science looked at how academics responded differently to emails from male and female students. In a funny way it was a lucky accident that my parents gave me the name they did, because a lot of people I speak to over email think I’m a boy until they meet me. It’s sad that such biases exists at all in science but I hope that everyone will be able to make impressions based only on their relevant skills.