September 2018

By Laura Watson


It only takes a quick glance through Rachel Ignotofsky’s book, Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World, to see the extraordinary impact women have had on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Beyond the pages of history books, these trail blazers continue to inspire new generations of women. This includes those opening doors to their own futures through APR.Intern. 

While the world has progressed since Marie Curie was making waves, women entering STEM today face many of the same barriers as Ignotofsky’s heroes. This is a sentiment supported by Australian research pioneer, Alison Harcourt. Addressing a recent AMSI Optimise panel, she observed that many of the barriers are the same as sixty years ago. 

While educators are encouraging girls into science and maths, gender bias remains evident in the workplace including funding structures, cultural attitudes and lack of flexibility. It is little wonder that women account for only 16 per cent of Australia’s STEM workforce. This comes at a significant cost to the economy with supply falling short of the business demand for these skills. With only 43 per cent of STEM PhDs entering into industry, gaining access to tap into these repositories of specialist skills is a challenge for commercial innovators. It is not just access that is putting the brakes on industry research, with business concerned about gaps in experience and soft skills. PhDs might have specialised expertise but they are viewed as not having the necessary understanding of business and communication skills to drive research in these environments. 

So how do we solve this challenge and break down the fence that despite Robert Frost’s insistence, is not making good neighbours of Australia’s academic research and industry leaders? 


AMSI’s national internship program, APR.Intern is helping bring university research and industry closer together. 

The program is accelerating engagement of women in STEM by opening opportunities to place female PhDs at the innovation frontline. Building confidence and soft skills, these placements are exposing out brightest researchers to commercial research challenges and opportunities. Fully supported by an APR.Intern Business Development Officer, these placements are a low-cost, low-risk opportunity for industry. Over the course of three to five months, the project provides a compelling taste of the benefits of accessing specialised research capability. Importantly for universities, with each student supported by an academic mentor, the program is also opening valuable doors for research-industry collaboration. This also builds valuable industry networks to attract new talent and increase access to funding. 


Gender equity is essential to secure future skill supply and support the realisation of Australia’s innovation aspirations. Without the engagement and leadership of women, it will not be possible for STEM industry to advance technology, navigate an increasingly digital, data-driven economy and optimise in the face of opportunity. 

Beyond the internships, APR.Intern is also leading a national conversation on STEM gender equity. This was the focus of the program’s live streamed Women in the STEM Workforce event in September, with keynotes from CSL Data Science Head, Dr Milica Ng, President of Chief Executive Women, Kathryn Fagg and Telstra Diversity and Inclusion Head, Kylie Fuller, as well as Q&A panel discussions. Putting women front and centre in the STEM conversation, this event highlighted critical barriers to gender equity in STEM and explore how these can be addressed. 

Through awareness campaigns, media and social media, AMSI is nurturing debate and empowering women through APR.Intern. Like Ignotofsky, the program is providing a platform to tell women’s stories, with national academic and industry champions lling the need for role models. 

Perhaps along the way, we will produce at least some of the next fifty fearless pioneers. 

To contact the APR.Intern team, email or call (03) 8344 1785.