Women and girls in STEM: Amanda Barnard

Professor Amanda Barnard is one of Australia's most highly awarded computational scientists. 

Professor Amanda Barnard is one of Australia's most highly awarded computational scientists. She leads research at the interface of computational modelling, high-performance supercomputing, and applied machine learning and artificial intelligence. 

Amanda has a PhD in theoretical condensed matter physics and a Doctor of Science degree from RMIT. After working in a variety of prestigious research roles, including at Oxford University, Amanda became Chief Research Scientist at Data61, CSIRO’s specialist digital arm.

In 2020 Amanda joined the Australian National University, where she is a Senior Professor and Deputy Director of the School of Computing. 

Amanda has received 11 national and international awards across 5 scientific disciplines. She is a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Physics and the Royal Society of Chemistry.

In 2022 Amanda was made a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for her services to science and education.

Photo of Amanda Barnard

What inspired you to pursue a career in your chosen field? What excites you about the future in this field?

I am inspired by new ideas and have moved around a variety of STEM disciplines, solving problems and developing new technologies so others can do the same.

In my career I have worked in many fields, organisations and countries. The most exciting thing about STEM is that this type of flexibility is possible. We can choose to either focus on a lifelong goal or to tackle new challenges as they arise.

How has the career progression of women in STEM changed since you started your career? What impacts have you seen in your field?

Over my more than 20 years in STEM, the biggest changes have been the opening of a transparent and honest dialogue about the challenges faced by women in the field, and a widespread recognition that we need to diversify the workforce.

Women approach things differently, can solve different problems and come up with different ideas. In the past we all knew women were underrepresented, but no one would talk about it so progression stalled.

Accepting that these discussions are a natural part of recruitment, promotions, funding and publishing our results is the first step toward changing the way we approach diversity and inclusivity in all these aspects of a STEM career.

How do the opportunities and barriers for women in STEM differ between Australia and other countries?

Australian women in STEM face similar challenges to those in other countries, but with some added complexity around how STEM is valued nationally. 

In some cultures, STEM professionals are revered, making it an attractive career with a lot of opportunities. This status can lead to it being male dominated, depending on other cultural norms. 

Australian women are not discouraged from joining the STEM workforce, but we sometimes suffer from a lack of high-level community and institutional support for STEM overall. This makes it less attractive, stable and rewarding than other sectors.

What can inspire more girls and women to choose STEM careers?

Better clarity about the wide variety of STEM careers that are possible might help more people thinking about entering STEM to see there is a place for them, regardless of their interests, expertise and ambitions.  

We have all been trained by professors, but very few STEM graduates stay in academia. STEM graduates work in business, media, education and healthcare, and on important social issues such as renewable energy, food security, biodiversity and climate change. 

The beauty of STEM is that you don’t need to commit yourself to one thing or one path. You can craft your own career as you go along.

What advice would you give girls and women who want to be part of the sector?

Stay open to possibilities and be ready to try new things as opportunities emerge. STEM is a fast-moving field with new ideas and new technology evolving all the time.

The job you plan for when you start your degree will unlikely be the one that most excites you by the time you graduate. Think of STEM as your foundation to build on, rather than the pillar that defines you.