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Time for change

[ The University of Melbourne Voice Vol. 6, No. 5  3 May - 13 June 2010 ]

Women have long been active participants in the Royal Society of Victoria and Professor Lynne Selwood has been elected its first female president. Zoe Nikakis reports.

University of Melbourne zoologist Professor Lynne Selwood remembers the day in 1987 when she entered the Royal Society of Victoria’s heritage-listed building for the first time.

She had just joined the Society and as she walked down the corridor lined with portraits of the previous presidents – all of them men – she thought “Oh dear, this is due for a change.”

That change has now come with Professor Selwood’s election as the Society’s first female president.

An expert in Australian mammals, Professor Selwood will combine her work as President of the Royal Society with her current research project where a team of University scientists are trialling a contraceptive for possums, which so far has a success rate of greater than 90 per cent.

Founded in 1854, the Royal Society of Victoria has long been active in the promotion of science and technology in Victoria, from funding Burke and Wills’ fateful journey across Australia to their monthly meetings, where scientists present new developments in their fields.

“The speakers do a fantastic job and it’s a really good way of keeping up with current science in fields not your own,” she explains.

Though Professor Selwood is the first woman to be named president, women have long been involved in the Society as evidenced by etchings in the State Library’s collection of women at meetings as early as 1878.

“They were participants too,” Professor Selwood explains.

“Science is not a new interest for women, they have always been involved in scientific exploration.”

During her time as president, Professor Selwood hopes to modernise the Society’s communications by re-developing their website and updating membership and email lists, and she is keen to involve more young members in the Society.

“It has always been an active society, and it’s not good for it to remain static,” says Professor Selwood who admits she is a great believer in evolution, in change.

Creating opportunities for young scientists, both men and women, is a topic close to Professor Selwood’s heart. She was instrumental in the creation of three postgraduate student prizes which the Royal Society awards each year during Science Week in earth, physical and biological sciences.

Although the prizes are not aimed specifically at women, they nonetheless encourage young female scientists to further their careers, Professor Selwood notes.

During her career, she has seen the progress of women in science, not just in the Society but more broadly in the scientific community. Her own work and new position further the cause of women in science. “I often like to think my career shows young women interested in science that it is possible to have a successful career in science and have a family. You just have to be strategic about it,” she says.

“Women have broken a lot of barriers. When I first started working as a scientist, women couldn’t even get a bank loan without a male guarantor.

“We’re now really leaps ahead, and it’s something that women have to be conscious of. We can’t get complacent. We’ve made great strides towards equality, and now we have to keep it.”


Professor Lynne Selwood �€“ the first female president of the Royal Society of Victoria since its foundation in 1854 [ Click to enlarge ]

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