About the speaker
Our speaker today is Ms Bernie Hobbs.
Bernie is best known as a popular judge from ABC TV's “The New Inventors” and on her weekly science spots on ABC radio around the country. She has worked with kids, animals and rocket scientists, and shared the stage with prime ministers and rock stars.
She has won awards for the kids TV show “the experiMENTALS,” and for her infamous greenhouse website Planet Slayer. Bernie is often chairing and the master of ceremonies at forums and events for clients some of which include the Prime Minister's Prizes for Science; The Association of Consulting Engineers Australia; The Queensland Government; The Queensland Resources Council; CSIRO; The Australian Society of Medical Research; and The World Congress of Science Journalists.
She holds a first class honours degree in biochemistry and microbiology from Queensland University of Technology. With a background in medical research, environmental writing and science teaching, Bernie can tackle tough or technical subjects and bring the driest topics alive.
It gives me great pleasure to invite Ms Bernie Hobbs to deliver the occasional address.
Staff, distinguished guests, graduates and all the family and friends who’ve come here to celebrate your achievement.
I also acknowledge the traditional owners of the land we meet on today – the Gadigal and Guring-gai people of the Eora nation - and pay my respects to their elders past and present.
And now I want to say CONGRATULATIONS – You’ve done it!
All those years! All those credit points!
You’ve sat the exams, handed in all those prac reports.
And it’s been 3 months since you finished so you’ve probably paid off your HECS debt by now too.
Well done you all!
Graduating is a real milestone in our lives. It’s one of the few things that can never be taken away from us. It represents hard work, staying power and sacrifice.
Not only that, you’re graduating in some of the most important fields in our nation, and the world.
Science and engineering are at their most fundamental level about problem solving.
Science reveals the workings of the world, and points the way to the future.
And engineering builds the future.
And I don’t have to tell you that we’ve got some ready-made challenges for you to tackle.
Climate change isn’t going anywhere – this is such a complex beast of a problem that we need our best minds working on ways to model scenarios, reduce emissions, and mitigate the climate effects our living world is already facing.
We need our engineers to keep delivering smarter transport, energy, buildings and infrastructure. And supply chains without any missing links.
And with the population predictions for this century, we need to get very serious about food and agriculture. That means smarter use of the food we’re growing. And even if we cut the obscene amount of food we waste globally each year, we’ll still need to develop ways to grow enough so we no longer have one in nine of the world’s people undernourished.
As for water – a billion people don’t have enough clean water and only two thirds of all people have proper sanitation. Fixing that isn’t rocket science, but it does take more than just engineering. It takes engineers working with communities to implement appropriate, long term solutions. You could do a lot worse than work for a group like Water AID or Engineers without borders.
And our last big, obvious problem: Australians are getting older – and I’m not just talking about those of us up here on the platform.
An ageing population has lots of social implications, but we’ve got to do something about improving health – better prevention and treatment of the diseases that come with living 70 years longer than our ancestors. And I’m pushing 50 so I’d like you biomedical kids to get cracking on that one straight away.
So there are plenty of challenges ahead, but right now you’re at one of the major turning points in your life - Graduation
You’ve just finished a very structured part of your life with a clear end-point. So what’s next?
Some of you will go on to be brilliant researchers. Some will be outstanding professionals. And some will be total duds in both and end up in the science media, like I did.
I shouldn’t say total dud – I was just profoundly unsuited to my first two science-based professions.
My first crack at a career was as a science teacher in the mid-80s.
I thought it’d be perfect for me – I love explaining science. And I love 10 weeks holiday a year.
What I hadn’t factored in to the career planning was that teaching involves working with adolescents. All day, every day.
The 13-18 age bracket isn’t my thing. Kids in groups still freak me out a bit.
And the fact that their hormones kick in before their personal hygiene just made the career change decision that much easier.
So at 25 it was back to uni for me.
I did my honours on a dengue fever vaccine project at QUT. QUT’s a lot like UTS – not just because they both had the fugliest architecture in academia, and are both now sporting gorgeous makeovers. I can’t wait to do a tour of the new buildings here.
But there’s another UTS/QUT connection – the Dean when I finished honours was Professor Vicki Sara…. She didn’t make it to our graduation either – I think she’s avoiding me.
And there was another honours student in my lab who was also working on a vaccine project. If you’ve done anything in Medical and Molecular Biosciences here at UTS you probably came across her - Associate Professor Bronwyn O’Brien.
So honours in the same lab. Both got first class.
Associate Professor Bronwyn O’Brien
Ms Bernie Hobbs – You can probably guess which one of us was a more natural fit for the research lifestyle.
Luckily, having false starts in two careers that I really thought would be right for me didn’t really matter, because explaining science isn’t just a thing – it’s a job. And I’ve been doing it at the ABC for almost as long as most of you have been breathing. And assuming no cuts have been made over lunch I might still be doing it this arvo!
So my first piece of advice: don’t worry if things in your life don’t go to plan.
If my life had gone to plan I’d still be a miserable teacher somewhere in Qld married to my boyfriend from the 80s. Which would come as no small surprise to my wife, to say the least.
After 30 odd years of working and studying, I can guarantee you the only certainty with your future is that it won’t go to plan. But if you’re prepared to work hard, and you can find work that you enjoy most of the time, and that makes you feel like you’re doing something worthwhile, you’ve hit career gold. Every job doesn’t have to be perfect, but don’t put up with any work that’s soul destroying. If you die a little bit inside every time you go to work, get out of there.
And even if you do have the perfect job, I’ve got another tip for you:
Don’t mistake your work for your life.
There will be times when your work completely takes over, when you have to say no to things and people because a job just has to get done. But don’t fall into the work comes first trap in the long haul. It’s lousy for your physical and mental health, and it makes for a lonely life.
Not least of all because you will have times when your work sucks, or it falls through. If your sense of self-worth is inseparable from your job or the income you get, you’ll fall hard. If you’re a workaholic, like any other kind of aholic, you’re probably hiding from something that’s not working in your life. And take it from me – that stuff comes out in the end. You’re way better off having balance from the go-get.
And my next point is one thing that will help you have balance, and meet those big challenges we were talking about earlier – climate and energy, health, water and all that.
Give your brain some playtime. The simplest way to do this is to UNPLUG yourself for at least half an hour a day and go for an aimless wander somewhere. Darwin synthesised Origin of Species ambling around his garden path. And every creative idea I’ve ever had has come during a walk, staring out a bus window, or in a shower. Walks are easier to slot in, and better for the skin.
If your brain’s got enough empty playtime you’ll be in the best position to start working on those big challenges.
And now I’ve got some depressing news. These challenges need things to change. And change on this scale takes about a generation. 20 years.
These big challenges aren’t going to be resolved by knowing all the facts.
That just doesn’t make sense to scientific minds like ours - you figure that facts & evidence are enough to guide a decision. And once people know the facts, they’ll change their mind and behaviour.
There’s just one problem with that – people are human beings, and our decisions are driven by emotion. Even for us science people.
Being involved in change is about leadership, and leadership means getting the hang of human beings. Not just individuals, societies. And a great way to do that is to look at a bit of history.
I’m not talking dates & names of the Roman Emperors. The real beauty in history is in seeing human nature played out over and over around the world. It doesn’t matter if you learn it from a tv or radio series. Or travel – spending time with people in other cultures and learning their history will change the way you see your own world and what counts in it.
So I urge you to let your curiosity spill over into human history when you can.
Finally, there’s one more challenge that about half of you are going to face in your careers.
Ladies, you’re set to earn ~5% less than the men here.
Study after study has shown that graduates have a roughly 5% gender disparity in pay. It varies a lot depending on what area you study – science and engineering graduates are better off than most, but the idea that women graduates are effectively donating 2 hours free labour for a 40 hour working week is a hard one to let lie. Especially coming 45 years after equal pay was legislated.
The reason for the disparity is put down to the fact that workplaces evolved to suit male type workers and managers, so the selective pressures – especially competition based promotion – suit the male type personality. So we definitely need more women in leadership roles in organisations to change those selective pressures – to get away from the career punishment women experience when they have kids, and to value collaboration as well as competition.
But in the meantime, I’ve got two tips for the women in the room right now. The first is in applying for jobs or promotions, and it’s borne out of research presented in Adelaide this week:
- Men have an inflated sense of their capabilities. They overestimate their skills by around 30%. Women tend to undervalue their skills. So ladies, when you’re looking at the key selection criteria for a job, if you can do 70% of it, you can do the job. So apply and start practising talking yourself up. That’s what a bloke would do.
- The other tip is a bit more direct. I want every graduating woman here today to write to the Australian Taxation Office and let them know that their calculation of your HECS debt is incorrect. As a woman you can only expect to earn 95% of the earnings of a male graduate so you’ll only be paying 95% of your HECS debt.
I think we just started a movement.
Hopefully in 20 years time when one of you is giving the graduation address here you’ll be able to report that the challenges are well on the way to being addressed, and the income disparity is history.
In the meantime, I wish you all the very best of luck in your lives and your careers. And I want to congratulate you one last time for the incredible achievements we’re recognising today, and for equipping yourself to help all of us face the challenges ahead.
We’re human, and that’s what we do.