March 18 - 24, 2018: Issue 352

Pittwater's Sonja Elwood Nominated to Be a Women in STEM Calendar Girl: What Does a lady scientist look like?

To raise awareness of the lack of women in senior STEM (Science, Tech, Engineering, Maths) positions a photo competition is currently underway with the tag #oglethis. Pittwater's Sonja Elwood has been nominated to be part of this by Lynleigh Greig, regular columnist on rescuing and caring for our local fauna.

As the organisers explain;

'Some calendars might suggest that women spend their time lazing around on over-accessorized cars but we hope to capture the alternative side of life.

Please get involved by posting a photograph of a woman, a mum, or a wild fairy god mother capturing the reality of life or showing off impressive tasks that more accurately portray why women truly are amazing."

Those inspired by the idea are asked to post a photo on this Facebook page with a 20 word max caption, your name and email address. The 12 photos with the most likes by May 1st will win a spot in a 2018/2019 financial year calendar and the winning photo will be printed on a stubby cooler and available for purchase. All winners will receive free merch to secure their everlasting fame!

The photos posted so far are amazing - wonderful women doing brilliant things all over Australia and in every discipline of STEM vocations - although none of them are 'glam' captures when you see a lady with flies massed along her lips in a interior region, or another dressed in thick blue coveralls while monitoring loggerhead turtles. These girls are climbing trees, scaling cliff faces, monitoring the impacts of livestock grazing on wildlife, one is a condensed matter physicist and work with 2D materials, another is filming Palm Cockatoos, and milking Death Adders, another measuring terns with one hand while her three week old is nestled in her lap!

And there's not a buffed and oiled male alongside posing with coiffured black, blonde or brown hair in sight - no fancy red sleek sportsmobiles either! 

The Proceeds will go towards Deb Bower's Homeward Bound Leadership Course and Antarctic Voyage:

Deb Bower is passionate about equality and diversity in the world and especially in science. She has taught frog biology to year 2 children through dance in Mongolia, volunteered in a conservation organisation for a year in Madagascar and held community frog catching events for school-children back in Australia. Today Deb continues her work supporting students and researchers and providing academic support to scientists with English as a second language. She hopes to create opportunities to increase capacity for underrepresented groups in science through partnering with industries that can benefit from diversity. 

Deb is raising funds to complete the Homeward Bound leadership program developed specifically for women in science. Deb has been selected as one of only 70 participants to create a global network for change. She will spend a year completing leadership training through online lectures and networking discussions. In January 2019, Deb’s cohort will meet in Argentina and travel on a 3-week voyage to Antarctica to revise and complete their training. The experience aims to provide women with development in leadership by:

  • teaching strategies to influence and create impact,
  • establishing a global collaborative community,
  • raising the profile of women leaders,
  • providing personal coaches with female mentors,
  • teaching effective tools to write and share.

At the completion of the course Deb will share her results through workshops at universities and schools, online videos, written pieces and open discussions.

The 'Calendar Girls' comp also promotes another aspect Deb is looking into and wanting to garner and spread more insight on, namely; what does a scientist look like? And further in this - what do women scientists look like?

If those photos shared so far are anything to go by, Australian Women STEM Professionals look like you and me, if you're a girl too, and they are talking to other women all around the world and working with them in every field to look after what's here for its sake, as much as so future humankind can see it too, and are adding to knowledge on everything under the sun (and underground in some cases) in all STEM positions.

Example: Sarah Kachovich - Deep sea drilling in the Indian Ocean to understand how and why big earthquakes happen. This photo is of the last core of our expedition. Photo credit Tim Fulton

Example: Clare Morrison - Trying to figure out if my calipers will be big enough to measure the SUL of the largest species of frog in the Solomon Islands - taken on Rob Roy Island, Western Province.

Example: Christine Giuliano - Turtling and Birding times :) Happy to be part of a future where girls soar. Go girls! Photo is Tanya and Christine cleaning up debris in Christmas Islands' Flying Fish Cove

Example:  Sharon Drabsch Loggerhead turtle monitoring, Dirk Hartog Island, Western Australia. Involves walking all night long in deep sand, and measuring and tagging 100kg turtles that really just want to get back in the water! I was in charge of the project this January. 

Although limited to 20 words per image Lynleigh did her best to cram in a small overview of this local STEM legend:

"Sonja Elwood is exactly the kind of woman I would want my daughter (and son!) to emulate. 20 years ago Sonja founded volunteer wildlife rescue organisation Sydney Wildlife and has been rescuing injured and orphaned wildlife for over 30 years (whilst raising her own family)! 

Sonja is regularly involved in bush regeneration and is a tireless advocate for the rights and welfare of native wildlife and the environment.

In addition, Sonja has the following qualifications:

  • Bachelor of Environmental Science (Macquarie University)
  • Master Wildlife Management (Macquarie University), Golden key Member
  • Master Research – PhD bundle researching the History and Ecology of Sydney’s urban Bandicoots (Macquarie University) - currently undertaking

In the below photos, Sonja is installing and inspecting nestboxes - surveying for the vulnerable Eastern Pygmy Possum (Cercartetus nanus) in bushland in Sydney’s north."

Pittwater Online would like to add a bit more to that. When we first became 'Sonja Stalkers' the lady was helping Barrenjoey High School Students doing the Community Service part of the 2012 Duke Of Edinburgh Award by showing them how to do bushcare to restore and look after the sections of Careel Creek that run alongside the school. 

Part of what Sonja was also doing, and continues to do, was take residents, on weekends, on wonderful bushwalks through Kuring-gai Chase National Park with Les McLeod to learn about local aboriginal sites. Guided walks, atop studying, have featured in Sonja's calendar for years!

In 2012 the lady was named the Volunteer of the Year Award - 20 Years Plus, by Pittwater Council and this was followed up in February 2016 with a Staff recognition 'For exceptional performance project managing feral animal control programs across Pittwater'.

Her passion has always been for saving wildlife though, telling Pittwater Online in her 2012 Profile;

'To my mother/grandmother’s horror when a toddler I would bring dead animals home that I found (birds or hedgehogs) and put them into the hot water cupboard in the belief if I could just warm them up they may come back to life.'

That preoccupation with saving the lives of the local fauna continued in Australia for 12 years with WIRES before Sonja started Sydney Wildlife in 1997, a voluntary native animal rescue and rehabilitation service that operates 24 hours per day, 7 days per week. The organisation receives no government funding and is operated entirely by volunteers - dedicated angels who you can have a chat to at 2, 4 and 5 a.m. because they're up - feeding babies, changing dressings, rescuing another native animal from a road, a roof or a domestic pets' clutches.

Among Sonja's favourites of our local animal world is the Grey-headed Flying-fox!! 

' I just adore these animals and they are so misunderstood and much maligned. They’re 4-5 times more intelligent than dogs, THE primary pollinators of our ecualpyt and rainforest canopy trees and sadly threatened with extinction. They are a delight to care for, friendly, loving, funny ...'

Currently Sonja is a Biodiversity Officer with Northern Beaches Council and still involved in those community biodiversity tours and events. One is coming up this week:

Celebrating Australasian Bat Month and Nareen Wetland Restoration

Friday, 23 March 2018 - 6:45pm to 8:30pm

Nareen Wetlands is currently part of an exciting joint restoration project between Council and the Greater Sydney Local Lands Services.

This project aims to assist in:

  • restoring water quality
  • removing weeds and restoring native wetland vegetation
  • improving the local environment for the amazing variety of birds and animals currently supported by the wetland

To celebrate this grant and also Australasian Bat Night, Council is delighted to be hosting a fun and informative community event with Dr Brad Law, Principal Research Scientist with NSW Primary Industries and microbat expert. Nareen Wetlands supports an extremely high diversity of microbats, 500 times higher than other local hotspots such as Warriewood Wetlands, Narrabeen Lagoon or Deep Creek. Come and join us in a survey of these bats and learn about these amazing creatures with our local experts.

Meeting point provided after booking. Bookings essential

Contact Information - Northern Beaches Council - Bushland and Biodiversity Unit

Name: Sonja Elwood - Phone: 9970 1308 - Email:

Clearly the future for women in STEM is a lot brighter with such ladies doing what they do for decades because that is what they have a lifelong passion to do. Or as Sonja says every time she gets a chance to, echoing so many of the posts already placed on Deb Bower's in praise of other women;

" inspire me and rock my world!"

Obviously many among us would like you all to vote for Sonja, although any who know who will also know hers is a 'get on with it' ethos that would be embarrassed by such attention - it took months of concerted effort and incessant hassling just so the lady who has inspired so many would be a Profile for just one week of dedicated 'look what you too can do'.

Ultimately Deb Bower's idea is one Sonja would subscribe to and support though; we need to see more real women doing what they do in real life and realise they are the 21st and 22nd century calendar girls. 

To help this evolve faster by openly flaunting the deep reserves of brilliance coupled with hard work that have always resided in bright, intelligent women, while it may be an opposite flaunting to that normally taken as 'acceptable' for a calendar of women, is actually what goes on in the real world anyway.

We need to ensure the women working in STEM now and the girls aspiring to careers in these disciplines are not hindered in their work or told what their 'place' is. Their place is here, their time is now.

Order a calendar at ($20)

Order a stubby cooler at ($20)