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It is well reported that I am women of a certain age; I have enjoyed the great luxury of a career in frontier science and then a career in education. Not sure what my next one will be. It will be no surprise then that this week has been one of interesting highs and low.

Two women chemistry professors were awarded the Nobel Prize for their work in developing the premier gene editing technique, CRISPR. Deserved recognition of amazing work that has, and will, change people’s lives; I know Rosalind Franklin is smiling. They also shifted the statistics by lifting the percentage of female scientists so honoured up to an enormous 3.29% of all Nobel Prize recipients! Not news per se but still vaguely depressing… especially given the very real contributions women have made to science across centuries. 

For the interested also see AEON – an Art installation created to celebrate CRISPR technologies. 

Another uplifting moment was the announcement of Louise Gluck as the 16th female recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature (I am a great fan of her Wild Iris collection).

In a week which celebrated the unique contributions of women to society, imagine my disappointment when reading a summary of the 2020 Australian Federal budget announcement. Somehow it seemed to ignore both national and global data about the devastating effect of COVID-19 on women. There are a couple of small crumbs, women and STEM, women and entrepreneurship, for example; BUT genuine core support seems limited. It is estimated that women’s jobs were/are 1.8 times more vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemic crisis than men’s jobs. Related work identified that women make up 39 percent of global employment but account for 54 percent of overall job losses as a result of COVID-19. This is just stunning when you think of the heavy lifting that has been done to address equity, diversity and inclusion. Your light reading this weekend might include: 

The majority of UNE’s students are women and we know they have carried a heavy burden over the whole of 2020 and earlier if you consider the additional impost of drought.   The new Higher Education Funding model offers welcome opportunity for regional, rural and remote student candidates. UNE, alongside others, must recognise and make sure we continue to focus on ‘need’ and ensure that we maintain our commitment to supporting workforce development.

When I was not fixating on the women (the good, the bad and the ugly), the hours and days in between have been expended in working through the implications of the Budget announcements. Little pleasure. In contrast much pleasure was had from chatting with the surprising and varied number of amazing UNE Alumni who unexpectedly popped up in meetings and discussions about our support for the Special Activation Precinct in Moree, dialogues about risk management post-COVID, emerging opportunity’s on the international front as we all adapt and accommodate to life pre-vaccine release, and in a meeting about the science partnerships which will be critical to Australia’s future.

It has been a short week in some ways and a long one in others. Great to see UNE staff taking a break and enjoying great weather. For those who share an interest in my gardening endeavours – I am gleefully pleased to announce I am harvesting peas and beans. For those who follow my music interests – I decided to channel my inner chemist in recognition of the Nobel Prize announcements and pulled this out of my selection of music celebrating scientific concepts, enjoy the sound of DNA. I have no idea what I am going to do this weekend but as my eyes glance to the left of my desk, suggest that paperwork will form one part of my agenda. Enjoy yours.


Professor Brigid Heywood

Vice-Chancellor & CEO