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From the frontlines of COVID-19 care to space exploration, climate change research and so much more, there are brilliant women making huge strides in the areas of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) around the world. So, we’re zeroing in on a few of them; in particular the wonderful women on our own doorstep here at Bond University.

Growing up in Brisbane, Charlotte Phelps found herself intrigued by the human body and the intricacies of health sciences and medicine, which led her to pursue a Bachelor of Biomedical Science. Now, an honours degree later and partway through her PhD, Charlotte has discovered a passion for teaching, and her love of science has only grown as she researches the physiology and pharmacology of the lower urinary tract.

We checked in with Charlotte as part of our Women in STEM series, and learned all about her journey to finding her passion, her incredible support network, and her advice for those aspiring to similar careers.

Can you tell us a bit about your journey to getting involved in STEM?

I’ve always been fascinated by the workings of life. My interest in STEM originated while I was at school taking science classes, and this motivated me to pursue further study in health sciences. I was curious to better understand the makeup of the human body, and learn how research and advances in medicine can improve people’s lives.

After being awarded a scholarship to study at Bond University in 2017, I completed my Bachelor of Biomedical Science. It was here where my curiosity really took shape, developing into an abundance of knowledge across a range of topics, informed by my university professors. Now, I work alongside some of these incredible academics – those who inspired and guided me towards my current role – and am proud to be researching under the supervision and mentorship of Associate Professor Christian Moro and Professor Russ Chess-Williams.

These experiences, along with my time teaching in schools, progressed into my primary career goal of becoming an academic in the health sciences and medicine field. I’m particularly passionate about enhancing student learning experiences, and I’m excited to share my knowledge of health sciences in the higher education space.

What is your current role, and how did you get there?

I’m currently a PhD student in the Faculty of Health Sciences & Medicine here at Bond. My undergraduate degree in biomedical science created a foundation of anatomical and physiological knowledge, which I then carried over into my honours research program, which was focused on medical education. Throughout my honours, I was exposed to abundant research opportunities, as well as teaching roles, which prepared me to undertake my PhD – where I am now!

My laboratory-based research is centred around the physiology and pharmacology of the lower urinary tract, identifying novel targets in the pharmaceutical treatment of bladder contractile disorders. This is an increasingly prevalent issue, especially as we deal with an ageing population here in Australia and in many other countries worldwide, and I’m really passionate about advancing research in this area. I’m also intrigued by the scholarship of learning and teaching, and engaging students in physiology and anatomy studies – I’ve undertaken research in this area using various technological devices to assess their effectiveness in health science and medicine education. It’s been an amazing opportunity to integrate these new innovations into the Faculty of Health Sciences & Medicine through my teaching role.

What’s your favourite part of working in a STEM field?

My favourite part of being involved with STEM is the opportunities I have to share and gain insightful knowledge with and from others – whether that’s through presenting at national and international conferences, writing for publications, sharing ideas with my peers and supervisors, or even writing works for public news platforms like The Conversation. There’s so much to learn, and it’s exciting to connect with other exceptional people in my field!

What has your experience learning from and collaborating with other women in STEM been like?

It’s been nothing but positive! I’ve always felt supported and uplifted by the women around me, and it’s so inspiring to learn from fellow pioneers in my field within the Faculty of Health Sciences & Medicine. I’ve also never felt at odds with my male counterparts, nor have I felt like I didn’t get the same or similar opportunities as them, which makes me feel very fortunate.

How do you think we can inspire more women and girls to get involved in STEM?

Continuing to share our experiences as women in STEM, and the opportunities this career pathway can provide women and girls, is invaluable. I’ve been afforded some amazing opportunities, and I want to use my education to further the education and opportunities available to others.

Do you have any advice for young girls who might be wary to express an interest in STEM subjects or career paths?

My main piece of advice would be to connect with and learn from as many people as you can. My main inspiration has come from those who have shared their experiences with me, and shown their support along the way. Follow your passion and you will find your path!

Why do you think it is important for women to be represented in science?

I’m so proud to be a part of the STEM community, and I wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for the power and progression of other women in this field. In this fast-growing area, it’s crucial we give women the confidence necessary to succeed in order to create more diversity within the field, and this begins with early-stage education. We need to represent the incredible work of women in STEM and make female role models more visible so that the next generation can identify with them, find their role in science, and work together to make a difference.

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