QUT researcher investigates pandemic and inspires women in STEM

Dr Nicole White who is part of a global investigation to improve COVID-19 treatment outcomes and future pandemic responses has been selected as a QUT Superstar of STEM.

The competitive two-year mentoring and media program enables its participants to inspire women to pursue STEM careers. QUT and Australian Centre for Health Services Innovation (AusHSI) researcher Dr White was selected to highlight career opportunities in statistics.

She is currently working on a global project to improve treatments for critical COVID-19 patients. Dr White is analysing COVID-19 data from 53 countries to help clinicians understand critical care patients’ treatment and experience.

“There was little evidence or data available to inform COVID-19 treatment or resource management during the initial outbreak,” Dr White said.

“It is essential that we capture and review pandemic data to improve treatments and better our response to future fast-paced pandemics.

“In pandemic scenarios, doctors are faced with time-critical decisions about how best to care for their patients. By collecting and analysing patient data, such as indicators of disease severity and responses to different treatments, we inform doctors and help improve the treatment of future patients,” she said.

Pictured: Dr Nicole White (right) mentoring QUT student Madi Stibbe (left)

Dr White works with colleagues and industry-partners to review data collected by frontline workers. Outside of COVID-19 research, she also uses data to review the cost and benefit of new technologies which support hospital administrator and clinician decision-making.

“I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do when I left school, so I enrolled in a dual degree in science and communication. Studying maths at university was different from high school, statistics were applied to solve real-world problems. I am very application-driven so I switched to a Bachelor of Mathematics,” Dr White said.

“Towards the end of my undergraduate degree, I took part in QUT’s Vacation Research Experience Scheme and met Distinguished Professor Kerrie Mengersen.

“I stayed on with Kerrie when I finished my PhD, working on projects as a postdoctoral researcher. I collaborated with researchers and frontline health workers to solve contemporary problems. I analysed data from cancer screening services to inform future resource allocation and identified patterns in genetic profiles linked with complex diseases,” she said.

The QUT Superstar of STEM program will equip Dr White with the skills and opportunities to inspire and mentor other women interested in STEM.

“Looking back at high school I never had the opportunity to engage with a female scientist or mathematician, and you cannot be, what you can’t see; so, this was definitely a barrier. Participating in the Superstars of STEM program is an opportunity to break-down this barrier,” Dr White said.

“I want to assure other women that there are plenty of strong women and allies who will support their aspirations. If someone is interested in STEM, they shouldn’t feel afraid to pursue it.”

Dr White said she had overcome imposter syndrome to advance her career.

“The biggest challenge in my career has been imposter syndrome. I’m sometimes hesitant to apply for opportunities that help me develop new skills and advance my career. Mentor support and networking with colleagues have been instrumental in overcoming this. Hearing about others’ experiences and lessons learned really helped me, especially when I was finishing my PhD and considering my next career move,” Dr White said.

“The best opportunities I’ve had turned out to be the ones where I wondered ‘am I good enough for this?’. Pushing past my doubts led me to where I am now; I’m working on a global project and doing what I love.”

Dr White plans to use her experience and Superstars of STEM training to support other women and says there are some simple steps women can take to start exploring their options.

“Change is happening, but it’s slow. Sharing my experience and helping other women is important to me because I want to overcome stereotypes and drive faster change for women in STEM,” Dr White said.

“The pressure of linear career expectations can be overwhelming, so my advice is simple – pursue your passion! Do what you feel is right for you, as opposed to what other people are doing or what other people want you to do.”

Dr White’s top tips for women aspiring to a career in STEM:

  • Seek out women in STEM. Visit the Superstars of STEM website and connect with researchers on LinkedIn and Twitter. You’ll see there are lots of opportunities and a huge variety of career paths available to you.
  • Don’t be afraid to pursue your interests. Sometimes you might be the only woman in the room but just know there are amazing women and allies routing for you to succeed.
  • If you are a student, talk to your teacher or guidance counsellor. They will have access to lots of great resources to help you explore your options.

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