Professor Melissa Brown is the first female Executive Dean of UQ’s Faculty of Science. She sees her new role as an opportunity to excite the community about the importance of science, while broadening the experiences of science students.
What excites you about your new role as Executive Dean of the Faculty of Science?
I’m excited about the chance to create opportunities for staff and students and enable them to be the best they can be in their endeavours in research, teaching and learning. This is a very exciting time for science and also for me.
As a molecular biologist, university teacher and experienced academic leader, what approaches will you bring to the role, and what are your major goals for the Faculty?
The common theme of the previous roles I’ve held, whether it be teacher of undergraduate or postgraduate students, research group leader, or Head of a School, has been leading teams. Those teams have varied in size – from 10 to more than 500 staff and/or students – where my role has been to articulate where we were heading in terms of learning, research or strategy, and bringing everyone along in the same direction. I will use those skills in my new role as Executive Dean of the Faculty of Science and I aim to do that in a consultative, collaborative and collegial way.
What challenges do women face in the fields of science and research, and have you seen a shift in the number of women pursuing science careers and leadership roles?
There are many challenges for women in science and they are complex.
It is important that we appreciate all the complexities. We tend to focus on a single issue and try to solve that problem, but that isn’t always all there is to it.
Perception of career paths and destinations is one challenge, as often all women see is men in leadership roles, and the approaches they use to achieve success, and they can’t see themselves in this way. Women often feel that they can’t or don’t want to do a particular role because it’s not consistent with their style.
This can be a driver for people leaving their careers because they can’t see a clear path.
Expectation is also a challenge, and often it’s the expectations women place on themselves. Most women, myself included, have a tendency to try to multitask and we’re generally very good at this. But the risk is that we try to do everything at once and end up not doing the best we can.
An important part of mentoring women is to help them identify the activities that can have the greatest impact on their professional lives, while not trying to do everything at once.
Confidence can be another barrier and that’s where we need to convince women they can do a job and do it well.
I have seen a shift in the number of women pursuing science careers and leadership roles, but it hasn’t been as great as I’d hoped. It signals that there is still a long way to go in terms of identifying all the contributing factors and how we might work on those to make a bigger difference over time.
Why are partnerships important to the success of the Faculty, and universities in general?
Universities are here to innovate and educate and we can’t do that alone. Everything we do, we do in partnership with other people and organisations.
In terms of education, this involves partnerships with schools, prospective students and their families, current students and future employers. It’s important that we have those partnerships to help students make the right decisions about what they study at UQ, and to make sure that when they graduate they are best able to pursue the careers they want to achieve.
Partnerships are also important in the research area. Building strong relationships with key stakeholders in government, industry and our international partners is crucial to ensuring the greatest impact of our research.
To learn more about the Faculty of Science, visit science.uq.edu.au.