Dr Ayse Zengin - championing for gender equity in STEM

Dr Ayse Zengin hopes that one day gender equity can be achieved in STEM. So, when the Australian Academy of Science reached out asking for women in the STEM community to feature in their Women in STEM Decadal Plan, Ayse was only too happy to oblige.

Ayse had been following the details of the plan, which outlines ways to improve gender equity in STEM in Australia, and knows how important it is to attract women to these fields.

Driven by her desire to help improve health during the ageing process, her own pathway into STEM began when Ayse completed a Bachelor of Medical Sciences. After graduating, Ayse was not too sure of what she would do, but soon after, was offered a histopathologist role in a pathology company, where she worked for two years. The role broadened her scope of science, and led her to a research project and the completion of an Honours degree.

Ayse says, “I enjoyed it so much that I went on and pursued a PhD using an animal model and imaging to understand how a protein in the brain alters sex hormone levels, to then effect the skeleton.”

After completing her PhD, Ayse moved to Munich, Germany for her first postdoc. After two years, she was offered a job in Cambridge, UK where she transitioned to clinical research and used various bone imaging devices to understand the musculoskeletal health of populations from low to middle-income countries.

Now a research fellow in the Department of Medicine in the School of Clinical Sciences, Ayse’s main research area focuses on muscle and bone health - investigating the muscle-bone relationship within ageing populations, imaging bone with advanced technology, and the role of nutrition on skeletal health in the elderly across ethnic populations.

On contributing to the plan Ayse says “I find that musculoskeletal research is very underrepresented, so I thought I would submit a photo of myself preparing a participant for a pQCT scan - which enables the 3D assessment of the tibia and radius and tells us about the trabecular and cortical bone mineral density, bone strength and geometry.”

In the months following her submission, Ayse received notification that her photo had been selected to feature on page 15 of the plan.

Having established her career in STEM, Ayse knows that it is not just for those that are smart. She says, “A lot of people think that clever individuals who get the highest marks in school are the ones who go into STEM fields. After several years in science and meeting a number of people, I now understand that cleverness alone is not enough to succeed, but perseverance and motivation are also important. This is science after all, and it is never a straight line, but more a squiggly, loopy one - perseverance and cleverness will ensure you reach the end of that squiggly line.”