We’re talking to Dr Claire Naughtin from the CSIRO’s Data61’s Insight team on her career journey, why she pursued career in tech, and the advice she’d give to someone wanting to pursue a career in STEM.

What led you to choose a career in tech? Please provide us with a brief overview of your career journey so far.  

I’ve always had a fascination with science. In high school I did what I later learnt to be known to as the “Fatal 6” subjects (chemistry, biology, physics, maths B, maths C and English). I didn’t know what sort of career I wanted to do, but I knew I wanted to do something in science. 

I ended up studying psychology at university, as I had a passion for understanding human behaviour, and going onto do a PhD in cognitive neuroscience (i.e. the study of the brain basis for human cognitive abilities). I’ve had a varied career since then, working in more basic science roles and now in a more applied role where the focus is on translating research and science to help government and businesses make better, data-driven decisions.  

How did you end up at Data61? What inspired you to join the organisation?  

I started working in Data61 in 2016 after stumbling across a job advertisement for what I would describe as the job I’d always imagined, but never knew what it was called. I knew I wanted to have a more applied focus to my research and feel like I was having a real-world impact, but wasn’t sure what that looked like in reality.  

Data61 was the ideal fit for what I was looking for as it combines a focus on research excellence with policy and business relevance and impact. I now work as a Senior Research Consultant and conduct applied research projects for government agencies and businesses to help them understand what the science, research and data means for them. 

What are some of the projects you’re working on at Data61? Can you tell us about some of the most impactful? 

The beauty of my work is that I get the opportunity to explore a broad range of topics. Each of these projects focuses on mapping out the future horizon for an organisation, industry or policy domain by exploring emerging trends and scenarios.

These have included topics such as healthcare, transport, emerging industries, youth health and wellbeing, employment and intellectual property. I am proud that each of these projects has helped shape the future direction of organisations in one way or another and helped them better deal with uncertainty. 

 What do you love about working in tech? 

I love that a career in tech constantly challenges you. You’re always on the quest for new knowledge, which means you’re always learning and building new skills. A career in tech also encourages you to flex your creativity muscles and come up with innovative solutions to problems. It can be overwhelming at times, particularly when you’re at the beginning of a new project or problem, but I like that it pushes you outside your comfort zone. 

Why is gender diversity important in tech? 

Gender diversity – and diversity of cultures, ethnicities, etc. for that matter – promotes a diversity of ideas and perspectives, which is invaluable in any area of science. Having diverse teams and organisations also opens up the types of role models you are exposed to in your career, particularly for early career researchers and scientists.

I personally have been lucky enough to work in diverse research teams in my career to date and benefited from being exposed to a diverse range of inspiring colleagues and leaders that each bring unique working styles, capabilities and sources of knowledge.  

In your opinion, what’s the single biggest change that needs to happen in order to encourage more women to pursue careers in tech? 

I think traditional stereotypes still exists around many STEM careers where some career options are seen as more male or female oriented. The more we can expose girls and women to the full spectrum of options available to them, including both STEM and non-STEM-related careers, the more they can be informed in making career decisions that align to their actual interests and strengths.

This could involve having guest speakers and female mentors at schools to inspire future STEM careers. I also think having the option to ‘try before you buy’ subjects in school and university rather than having to lock in options from the outset would be beneficial in giving more women and girls the opportunity to see if certain areas of STEM spark their interest. 

How can colleagues, organisations and industries within tech better support and enable women?  

I see great value in women supporting women, particularly supporting women in more junior roles when we have the privilege of being in more senior positions. This could be as simple as asking a junior female colleague for her input in a group meeting to help her build her confidence around expressing her opinion, to calling out inappropriate comments or behaviour in the workplace that is based on someone’s gender.

While I would love for us to get to a place where we didn’t need gender quotas in organisations, I see this as a positive step as it shows their commitment to promoting gender diversity in the workplace. It can help employers challenge unconscious gender biases that they may have in recruiting and support greater gender diversity in future generations of STEM workers. 

What advice would you give to women and girls wanting to pursue a career in STEM? 

I would encourage them to firstly choose subjects to study based on their interests rather than the ones that they think they should be studying.

I remember being one of two girls in my physics class and this ended up being my favourite subject in high school! I would also encourage them to seek out mentors or role models who are working in their desired career, or even connect with others that are only a few years ahead of them to get advice around the steps they took to get to where they are. Informal channels like this can not only provide you with practical advice but open your eyes up to opportunities that you mightn’t considered before.