IWD 2024: Historical role models and why they matter

In the lead up to International Women’s Day, our experts share the famous women in science who have broken the glass ceiling, shown courage, and inspired them to reach for greatness - with Dr Elena Schneider-Futschik and Prof Leann Tilley (Dept of Biochemistry & Pharmacology).

We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something and that this thing must be attained.

Marie Curie

Professor Leann Tilley

Leann Tilley has made major contributions to understanding the molecular and cellular biology of the malarial parasite. Leann won a lifetime achievement award last year for her research contributions. Learn more about Leann’s research here.

For Leann there have been many women role models and mentors along the way. She notes Nobel Prize winners Marie Curie, You-You Tu, Jennifer Doudna & Emmanuelle Charpentier and Elizabeth Blackburn in her top list of inspiring women scientists.

Image: Prof Leann Tilley's mentors and role models

If I had to choose one person it would be Rosalind Franklin, who’s Xray crystallography work provided data that led to the discovery of the double helical structure of DNA. I became aware of her work and her story when I was an undergraduate student. She is often remembered as a victim of male colleagues who used her data and failed to credit her. For me, she was a great inspiration because of her sharp mind, very careful scientific approach and ability to stand her ground and take her place as a great scientist.

Leann also shared with us the lessons she has learned along the way. Words of wisdom for us all on IWD 2024.

  1. Don’t give up
  2. Don’t put yourself down. Most people will value you at your own evaluation
  3. Choose your life partner well
  4. Feel the passion
  5. Enjoy the journey!

Dr Elena Schneider-Futschik

Elena featured in our Master of Biomedical Science Spotlight Series: Coursework Showcase where she highlights the research possibilities for students in her lab along the importance of curious minds. Watch now

We spoke to Elena about the female role models in her life and she had this to say:

My two role models are Jane Goodall and Ada Lovelace. Their contributions have been pivotal in advancing our understanding of the world. Jane was extremely brave venturing out to Tanzania to study animal behaviour and I admire her courage and curiosity in tackling the unknown. Ada was a mathematician and pioneer in computer science in a time where girls were not encouraged to pursue STEMM interests. Both of these women followed their dreams and broke through the glass ceiling (even though I am sure a lot of people did not believe in them at the time)!

Elena also gave a special shout out to her mother, who has been a great source of inspiration.

My mum is someone I admire immensely - for her compassion, dedication and contribution to learning. She has been a great teacher and support for both myself and my sister who chose paths in life that were quite different to hers. She always encouraged our curiosity and interests, shaping us to be the women we are today. Now, I try to be a similar role model for my girls.

Image: Elena with family

Don't miss Part 2 of our IWD series: 'Inspired by peers and mentors' where we speak to A/Prof Vicki Lawson, Dr Robyn Brown and Prof Christine Wells about their mentors and peers who have been a source of great inspiration and support throughout their careers.

Read Part 2 of our IWD series here